The saying "what's old is new again" rings true when it comes to the Mediterranean diet. This delicious, intrinsically healthy way of eating is the OG diet—and the heart of what healthy means now. Here's what you need to know to get started.
You've heard it, you know it: The Mediterranean diet is crazy healthy. In fact, if the typical American ate a traditional Mediterranean diet, this could lower heart disease and stroke risk by about 30 to 40 percent, says Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. But guess what else it is? It's hands-down one of the most delicious diets in the world.
"The Mediterranean diet is a very easy diet to understand. And anyone who already knows how to cook already knows what to do," says author Nancy Harmon Jenkins. "You don't need any 'special' ingredients. You don't need to learn any new techniques. Just add more vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seafood, extra-virgin olive oil—and eat less red meats and sweets. It's overall deliciousness makes it a seductive—and easy—way to eat."
Whether it's the flavors or nutrition that keeps people coming back for more, the Mediterranean diet seems to leave people satiated in a way no other diet does says author, instructor, and Greek culinary historian Aglaia Kremezi. "After writing about seasonal Mediterranean cooking for more than 20 years, I've learned that people can't get enough of these traditional, mostly vegetarian dishes," she says. "They satisfy even the most demanding palates, and furthermore, the people who feast on them leave the table feeling well nourished, light, and content."
It's rooted in diversity and flavor. And it's a millennia old. People eating the Mediterranean way in Italy, Spain, or Greece are not sneaking greens into their smoothies. They're not Pinning complicated recipes that recipes that require multiple cooking methods. Instead, they're leisurely dining on an abundance of produce, fish, whole grains, olive oil, and what we now dub "artisanal cheeses." They're embracing fresh, local ingredients.
"Countries of the Mediterranean have rich culinary cultures, deeply rooted in local ingredients and tradition," chef Seamus Mullen says. "The focus has never been on what the latest study deems healthy, but rather it's about cooking and eating delicious, wholesome foods, made from real, fresh, unadulterated, seasonal, and local ingredients. It just so happens that the result is almost always nutritious." In essence, old-school Mediterranean dining is the ultimate in modern eating. It's minimalist without the hoity-toityness of it all. It's healthy without the blinding halo. It's a celebration of real food made with whole ingredients.
This is where you'd expect to see the down and dirty details for how many fruits and veggies to eat daily and the exact whole-grain serving size to heap onto your plate. But that's not how the Mediterranean diet works. Rather, it suggests examples of what to eat over time—not just at one meal. The keys are variety, frequency, and relative proportions to other items on your plate. Fruits, veggies, whole grains, olive oil, legumes, herbs, and nuts should be the core of most meals, enjoyed multiple times a day. Fish and poultry are at least a twice-a-week thing. Dairy and eggs are a few times weekly (or daily), but in small amounts. Red meat is a few times a month. Wine is enjoyed in moderation with dinner, and when it isn't poured, the beverage is water.
"Don't get caught up in too many do's and don'ts," says Diekman. "A good first step is to add more veggies to what you're already eating." Chef and author Michael Psilakis agrees. "I'm a child of Greek immigrants," he says "I've never known anything but a dining room table filled with fresh fish, colorful salads, tons of seasonal fruits and veggies, plates of olives, briny cheese, and of course a bottle of quality extra-virgin olive oil. Now that I'm a chef and farther, though, I really understand how beneficial this way of life is. It's not a diet. It's the secret to a long and, quite frankly, delicious life."