15 Mediterranean Diet Swaps for Your Go-To Meals
"It's not a diet. It's a way of life."
Says, like, the majority of health advice revolving around weight loss. And we completely agree with that sentiment. Especially since around 70 percent of crash and long-term dieters will regain all the weight they lost, according to a 2014 study published in The Lancet Journal of Diabetes & Endocrinology.
So, you're probably thinking "Ok, great, so I have to 'change my way of life' to get fit," but how exactly are you going to do that? One idea floated around by experts is by focusing on your eating pattern. In fact, the most recent USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend just that. In the introduction, the authors define an eating pattern as, "more than the sum of its parts; it represents the totality of what individuals habitually eat and drink, and these dietary components act synergistically in relation to health." Translation: that one Oreo you ate last night won't make you fat. It may only impact your life when you make a habit of eating a sleeve of Oreos every night.
The USDA goes on to recommend a specific pattern of eating you may have heard of: the Mediterranean diet. (Diet being defined as the kinds of foods you eat, not the 2-week plan you go on to shed weight before your niece's wedding.) Specifically, it's an eating pattern that prioritizes fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, legumes and whole grains, is low in red meat, and free of processed foods and added sugars.
You shouldn't switch to this diet just because it's the best diet for weight loss (although it is, according to a 2015 Harvard study published in The American Journal of Medicine), or because a 2014 paper titled "Can We Say What Diet Is Best for Health?" (the answer, by the way, is "no") found that the Mediterranean diet was nearly perfect in fitting with the authors' ultimate recommendation to follow "A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants," but because numerous studies have connected it to preservation of cognitive function as well as defense against heart disease, cancer risk, obesity, metabolic syndrome, neurodegenerative disease, and inflammation. That's quite the resume.
There's no counting calories or drinking green juice three times a day; you just have to stick to real food. To make it even easier to get on board today, we've compiled a list of ingredients you're probably eating right now in your favorite meals and how you can sub them out for their healthier Mediterranean options. And while we're talking about easy ways to torch your belly flab, also take a look at these 30 Things to Do 30 Minutes Before Bed to Lose Weight.
For Your Salad Dressing, Use…
Eat This: Unrefined Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Not That!: Vegetable oil
Unrefined extra virgin olive oil is a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet. In one 2015 study published in The Lancet Journal of Diabetes & Endocrinology, dieters who were tasked with adding EVOO to their diets lost more weight than those who were on a low-fat diet and even those who added nuts to their diet. Unlike vegetable oil, which is mostly made up of inflammatory fats known as Omega-6 fatty acids, EVOO is full of healthy fats like anti-inflammatory omega-3s and monounsaturated fats. That's not all. Unrefined extra virgin olive oil is also rich in health-promoting polyphenols like oleocanthal. According to a review published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, oleocanthal helps to reduce inflammation (a contributor to weight gain) just like ibuprofen does.
For a Quick Lunch, Use…
Eat This: Canned Fish
Not That!: Hot dogs
Reel it in! The Mediterranean diet recommends eating fish two to three times a week. Fatty fish is high in omega-3s: a class of fatty acid that helps to reduce inflammation and protects your brain against cognitive decline. We know it's not reasonable to buy a pricey piece of fresh fish every week, but we can recommend stocking up on one of the cheapest sources of protein: canned tuna. When you're looking for a fast lunch, it'll benefit your belly to pop the lid of canned tuna than it is to boil a hot dog. The Mediterranean diet shies away from processed foods, like hot dogs, as these traditionally are loaded with preservatives, additives, and chemicals that may induce an inflammatory response in your body.
For Your Grab-and-Go Snack Bags, Pack…
Eat This: Nuts
Not That!: Chips
The Mediterranean diet includes loading up on nuts—a food that ranks high on the satiety index thanks to being high in fullness-promoting macronutrients protein and fat. Fending off distracting hunger pangs isn't the only reason you should chomp on nuts. Consumption of this snack has also been linked to everything from reducing the risk of cognitive decline to lowering cholesterol. Chips, on the other hand, are typically just empty calories that are drenched in a layer of salt; a recipe for bloating.
For Sandwiches, Use…
Eat This: Whole grain bread
Not That!: White bread
The overly-processed, refined flour used in white bread is devoid of nutrients and can cause perilous spikes in blood sugar that cause hunger to come on more rapidly and induces weight gain. Whole grains are rich in energy-boosting B-vitamins and digestion-slowing fiber, which makes them a great addition to the Mediterranean diet. We recommend seeking out whole grain breads like Ezekiel to use on your sandwiches and avocado toast.
For Seasoning and Marinating Dishes, Use…
Eat This: Herbs and Spices
Not That!: Sugar and syrups
Yes, we're talking about that barbecue chicken recipe that calls for a quarter cup of sugar. It may taste good, but if your marinades commonly use this blood-sugar-spiking ingredient, you could be doing harm to your waistline. Instead, the Mediterranean diet focuses on adding flavors with an array of fresh and dried herbs. They're low-calorie and low-carb, but high in antioxidants and flavor. Instead of BBQ chicken, marinate your chicken with fresh thyme, rosemary, and parsley, some lemon zest, mustard, garlic, and olive oil. It's our go-to.
For Happy Hour, Drink…
Drink This: Red Wine
Not That!: Margaritas
Mediterranean residents don't shy away from a drink once in awhile. Their go-to is red wine, an alcoholic beverage that studies have found to benefit heart health thanks to the moderate levels of cholesterol-lowering antioxidants known as flavonoids. You'll only reap these benefits if you drink red—not white—wine as flavonoids are found in grape skin. Meanwhile, margaritas are usually high in sugar and low in antioxidants.
Eat This! Tip: Remember that while red wine can be part of healthy lifestyle, it's important to limit your intake to a glass a day.
For Your Morning Oatmeal, Use…
Eat This: Fresh Berries
Not That!: Pre-mixed instant oatmeal cinnamon and dried fruit
Breakfast is understandably centered on carbs; you haven't eaten in over seven hours and your brain needs carbs for energy! But that doesn't mean you should rely on oatmeal alone or, even worse, those high-sugar instant oatmeal packets. Rather, ensure that some of those carbs are coming from fresh fruits, which are recommended to be eaten three times a day. Berries, in particular, are some of the highest-fiber fruits and contain significantly high levels of cancer-fighting polyphenols.
For Your Lunch Wrap, Ask For…
Eat This: Chicken Breast
Not That!: Deli meats
Whether grilled or baked, chicken is a great protein to eat to fill you up without filling you out. Ask for it in your lunch wrap or on top of your salad instead of cured deli meats that are notoriously high in sodium. High-sodium diets have been connected to a myriad of health problems from high blood pressure to heart problems.
For Your Pasta Dinner, Add…
Eat This: Broccoli
Not That!: Heavy cream-based sauces
Yes, you can even eat pasta on this diet! There's just one catch: please add some veggies like broccoli. A bowl of pasta is just a bowl of mostly empty carbs. It gets even worse when your only addition to it is a high-calorie alfredo sauce. The Mediterranean diet recommends lots of vegetables to your diet, and a bowl of garlicky broccoli, chicken, and penne is an easy way to have your carb cake and eat it too.
For Your Dinner Rolls, Try
Eat This: Garlic oil
Not That!: Margarine
Garlic is a great way to add some much-needed flavor to many dishes. Mediterranean dwellers often dip their freshly-made focaccia in a little bit of balsamic, oil, and garlic for some extra moisture and flavor. Take a page out of their book and pass on the margarine. This vegetable spread is full of artery-clogging trans fats that can lead to increased risk of heart disease. Adding a touch of garlic also ups the anti-inflammatory factor, as garlic can ward off bacteria, fungus, and body fat.
For Your Mid-Afternoon Healthy Snack, Dip Veggies In…
Eat This: Hummus
Not That!: Ranch dressing
Legumes, like the chickpeas that make up hummus, are a great source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats. Ranch dressing, on the other hand, is a highly-processed food made with an array of artificial flavors, salt, and gums. Dip your carrots into hummus to watch the pounds melt off: this snack is one of the 50 Snacks With 50 Calories or Less.
For Your Morning Meal, Whip Up…
Eat This: Eggs in Purgatory
Not That!: Bowl of sugary cereal
We're not saying all cereals are bad. In fact, some high-fiber, low-sugar cereals are a great way to get more whole grains into your diet. The problem is when your bowl is full of highly refined grains that only serve to spike your blood sugar. Instead, crack a couple eggs into a bowl and scramble them up. This protein-packed food is teeming with a weight-loss promoting nutrient called choline—just make sure you eat the yolks to get it. You can also try your hand at a dish called Eggs in Purgatory, which is made by cracking a few eggs onto a bed of antioxidant-rich stewed tomatoes.
For Your Coffee Run, Order…
Drink This: Espresso
Not That!: A Trenta Triple Caramel Macchiato Iced Latte With Two-Pumps of Cinnamon Dolce Syrup and Extra Whip
Our "Not That!" might be a mouthful, but it's not too far off from what many Americans request on their daily Starbucks run. According to a study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers found that java customers consume an average of 240 calories per every blended coffee beverage. Considering that a cup of coffee contains just 1 calorie, those calories are likely made up of cream and added sugars—one of the inflammatory ingredients that is missing from the Mediterranean diet. To get your café fix (which we still recommend as coffee is the number one source of free-radical-fighting antioxidants in the American diet!) opt for an espresso or black coffee.
For Dessert, Grab…
Eat This: Apple
Not That!: Cookies
Cookies—especially the 30 Worst Supermarket Cookies in America are mostly made up of sugar and refined flour. To satisfy your sweet tooth, reach for a fresh piece of fruit like an apple. They're high in fiber, which will help slow down your body's digestion of sugar so you don't wake up in the middle of the night to a growling stomach.
For Your Sandwich Spread, Swipe On…
Eat This: Avocado
Not That!: Mayo
If there's one key takeaway of the Mediterranean diet, it's this: don't shy away from healthy fats. Fat is so important in your diet, in fact, that pivotal research on the health effects of a Mediterranean diet had to be stopped because "it would be unethical to continue." So what happened? The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that after five years of examining trends in heart disease and stroke among high-risk people, the group of people who were told to follow a Mediterranean diet improved their health so much more than those prescribed a low-fat diet that researchers could not in good conscience continue to recommend the low-fat diet. Just make sure you're eating healthy monounsaturated fats like avocado and not inflammatory vegetable fats found in mayonnaise. You won't find that creamy spread on the list of 25 Best Foods for a Toned Body.