There is a lot of information out there about diets and meal plans. Many of these make promises and claims about preventing and lowering the risk for disease — though not all are proven. However, research has proved that following a Mediterranean meal plan does make a big difference in a person's health, especially for those at risk for heart disease.
There isn't one single diet plan that a person follows. Rather, a Mediterranean meal plan is based on a style of eating that includes more fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, legumes, and fish. It replaces saturated fats, which come mostly from animal products, with healthy fats that come from plant and fish sources.
Research has proven that by eating little or no animal protein, people can lower their risk for heart disease — as well as for certain types of cancer — and maintain a healthier weight. Research also shows that following a Mediterranean meal plan can help people with type 2 diabetes delay the need for medicine to help control blood sugar levels.
Key points of the Mediterranean meal plan include:
Snacks, chips, and dips are not part of this meal plan.
Here are some tips to help you include choices from the Mediterranean meal plan when you plan your meals.
Choose fruits and vegetables, at least 6 to 7 servings each day. (Aim for 2-1/2 cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit daily.) Look for brightly colored produce that is in season.
Eat at least 1 serving of beans a day. This could be in soups and salads, a side dish such as a multi-bean salad, or as a main dish.
Eat 5 to 6 servings of whole grains per day. Look for whole grain pasta, crackers, dense whole grain breads, and grains you can cook. Grains include couscous, bulgur wheat, and brown or wild rice. For breakfast, eat whole grain cereal or whole grain bread with low-sugar jam or nut butter, instead of butter or margarine.
Limit meat and poultry to one serving or less per week. You can have 1 to 2 servings of fish per week.
Cook with garlic and herbs. Use fresh and dried herbs, especially oregano, rosemary, thyme, and basil, to season your dishes whenever you can.
Only use olive oil and canola oil for cooking. Choose breads and other baked goods made with these oils. Cut butter and margarine out of your meal plan. Avoid peanut, safflower, corn, and soybean oils.
Eat a handful of nuts every day. Sprinkle a tablespoon of chopped or whole nuts over salad, pasta and vegetable dishes. Choose almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts.
Use low-fat milk products. Avoid cream, whole and 2 percent milk, and regular cheese. Use just 1 to 2 teaspoons of grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan, over pasta.
If you drink alcohol, have a glass of red wine with a meal. Avoid other kinds of alcohol and only drink wine with a meal. Limit alcohol to 1 glass of red wine a day for women and 2 glasses of red wine a day for men.