Eating a Mediterranean Diet is Easier than You Think!

I recently got a call from an old college friend who just got the results from his recent annual physical.

"My LDL cholesterol levels are a little high. They said I should try the Mediterranean Diet. What should I do?"

After all, he lives in the Midwest. What is he going to do about fish? What about fresh fruit and veggies in the winter time? Does he really have to say goodbye to red meat?

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The "world's healthiest diet" (as many call it) includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oil and lean proteins like fish. The diet is inspired by the eating habits of the people of Greece, Southern Italy, and Spain. 

Here is a six-step road map to help you get started. I think you will agree after you read this, that trying the diet will not be much harder than your commute to work!

  1. Switch to extra virgin olive oil. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids that increase HDL "good" cholesterol levels and push the LDL out of your arteries. You can use olive oil for salads, marinades, and to drizzle on raw vegetables and finished entrees (in place of butter).[i]
  2. Eat more fish! The good news is that the fatty fish like salmon, mackerel or anchovies are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for the brain and heart. Don’t worry if you do not know how to cook fish; there are tons of recipes out there that are easy to follow and mess-free! Here is one for a Mediterranean-style oven-baked salmon in foil. You can also buy smoked fish (if you do not have time to cook) as they also make a great snack with whole-grain crackers and raw veggies. 
    • If you do not care for fish, you can eat poultry and eggs in moderation. It would still be a good idea to try fish once each week for the omega-3s, and there are leaner fish options that resemble chicken in flavor.[ii] When you do not have fish, go for the leaner proteins that are lower in saturated fat than red meats.
  3. Eat veggies all day long ... and throw in some whole grains too. Veggies are not just for meals but make for a healthy snack. Research indicates that at least three servings of vegetables each day can help beat stress
    • Conversely, if you do not feel like veggies during meal time, add whole grains to the menu. To be clear, whole grains are those grains that have not been "refined" – they are still "whole." 
      • Examples of whole grains are oatmeal (breakfast of champions), quinoa (which only takes 20 minutes to boil), and barley for soup. Be sure to read the labels and look for "whole" or "whole grain." By the way, popcorn (yes, popcorn!) is a whole grain. Air-pop it with olive oil, and you are enjoying a healthy snack! Whole grains are full of fiber and are filling, satisfying any appetite craving.
  4. GO NUTS! Start by replacing all the junk food crunch snacks with nuts and watch the calories, added sugars and sodium all but disappear from your diet. Nuts are so versatile you can enjoy them in stir fry, salads, and sprinkled on proteins, as well as for an easy grab-and-go snack when you are on the run. They are high in protein, fiber, and minerals like potassium.
  5. Fill your sweet tooth with fresh fruit. Indulge that craving you have for a sugary snack or dessert by filling a bowl or blender with fresh fruit. It is an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants, and it cuts out all the added sugars and artificial ingredients that come with sweets. The local supermarket is filled with different types of fruits, and there are co-ops and farmers' markets in the snow-belt during the winter time! Try new fruits to add more variety and excitement to your meal time. 
    • Another nice feature of the diet is that you can enjoy your fruit in a glass! Red wine, in particular, is rich in flavonoids found in the skin of the grapes that are great for heart health. The antioxidants in the flavonoids lower the risk of heart disease by increasing good cholesterol, decreasing bad cholesterol and reducing blood clotting. Like any alcoholic beverage, enjoy the wine in moderation, and if you do not drink, you can consume grape drinks made from concord grapes which have the same heart benefits.[iii]
  6. iStock-623294778 family dinner outside.jpgAnd most importantly ... take the time to savor every bite. The Mediterranean diet is more about lifestyle. It is about enjoying "slow food" at a dinner table with family and friends, and not stuffing your face in front of the TV until you are bloated. When you are dining slowly, and enjoying your company and food together, you can tune into your body's "fullness signals." You will be more inclined to eat until your satisfied, and not binge until you are bloated.

With these six easy steps, you will realize that the Mediterranean Diet is not as exotic as it sounds. Start with any one of these steps, and by just focusing on one or two steps, you will make a positive impact on your health. 

What is also important to note is that this diet is NOT a death sentence for your palette. On the contrary, a typical daily menu can begin with a Greek omelet and continue with healthy fats throughout the day!

Bottom-line: If exciting new flavors are not enough to motivate you, let the fact that the people from these countries who "lived" by this diet during the last century experienced longer, healthier lives, with lower rates of obesity, heart disease and other serious conditions that we are confronting in the U.S. today be your motivation.

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Sean Browne

Sean Browne

Former Chief Revenue Officer, CCS Medical

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