What is the Mediterranean Diet all about?

This diet combines the traditional cooking styles of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The fundamental parts of the diet include the basics of healthy eating, a little wine drinking, incorporating olive oil, and limiting “bad” fats. With heart health in mind, The Mediterranean Diet discusses proportional eating habits, helps prevent certain diseases, and offers variety to those looking to properly manage weight and lengthen life span.

This diet is based on research that showed that a Mediterranean style of eating lowers cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease and that Mediterranean people have reduced rates of heart disease, cancer and obesity. Originally, the diet was formed around the food patterns typical of Crete, much of the rest of Greece, and southern Italy in the early 1960s.

helps reduce heart attacks
helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels
reduces risk of further heart disease
helps reduce cancer and obesity risk

Key Components
Eating a generous amount of fruits and vegetables
Consuming healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
Eating small portions of nuts
Drinking red wine, in moderation, for some
Consuming very little red meat
Eating fish on a regular basis

Foods that can be eaten daily on this diet include small portions of:
Bread (without butter or margarine) (whole grain is best)
Cereal (whole grain is best)
Pasta (whole wheat is best)
Olive oil/olives
Low-fat cheese, milk and yogurt
Wine (optional and in moderation)
Nuts and beans
Foods that should be eaten a few times a week include:
Eggs (egg whites best)
Sweet foods and drinks

Foods that should be eaten a few times a month (or more often in smaller amounts):
Red meats
Fruits, Vegetables & Grains

Eat like the Greek: You want to eat very little red meat and focus more on your fruits and veggies, averaging up to 9 servings a day. This eating pattern has been associated with a lower level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation — a change in LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) that makes it more likely to build up deposits in your arteries. You want to stick to whole grains, not packaged, so to keep from eating trans fats. Breads are eaten often but without butter or margarine, which contain saturated or trans fat.

Healthy Fats
Not all fats are bad, and this diet focuses on choosing the healthier options when it comes to the fat you eat. You want to eat more fats that contain the beneficial linolenic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acid).

The main healthy fat sources are:
Olive oil
Canola oil

Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides and may provide an anti-inflammatory effect helping to stabilize the blood vessel lining. The Mediterranean diet discourages saturated fats and hydrogenated oils (trans-fatty acids), both of which contribute to heart disease.

You want to cook with olive oil, specifically of the virgin or extra virgin variety. All types of olive oil provide monounsaturated fat, but "extra-virgin" or "virgin" oil are the least processed forms, and so contain the highest levels of the protective plant compounds that provide antioxidant effects.

Also, try to incorporate nuts into your daily food intake in small amounts, especially walnuts. Nuts are high in fat — up to 80 percent of their calories — but tree nuts, including walnuts, pecans, almonds and hazel nuts, are low in saturated fat. Walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts are high in calories, so they should not be eaten in large amounts — generally no more than a handful a day. For the best nutrition, avoid honey-roasted or heavily salted nuts.

Red wine intake is encouraged in moderation, and is even associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Red wine has an aspirin-like effect, reducing the blood's ability to clot, and also contains antioxidants.

This means no more than one 5-ounce glass of wine daily for women (or men over age 65), and no more than two 5-ounce glasses of wine daily for men under age 65. Any more than this increases the risk of health problems, including increased risk of certain types of cancer.

Red wine isn’t for everyone, so if you have a personal or family history of alcohol abuse, experience migraines, or you have liver disease, refrain from drinking wine or any other alcohol.

Day-To-Day Mediterranean Diet Tips
Eat natural peanut butter, not the kind with hydrogenated fat added.
Use butter sparingly.

Don't think that "low fat" or "cholesterol-free" on the label means a product is necessarily good for you. Many of these items are made with trans fats.
Eat a variety of whole fruits and vegetables every day - strive for seven to 10 servings a day. Keep baby carrots, apples and bananas on hand for quick, satisfying snacks. Try a fruit salad.

Use canola or olive oil in cooking. Try olive oil for salad dressing and as a healthy replacement for butter or margarine. After cooking pasta, add a touch of olive oil, some garlic and green onions for flavoring. Dip bread in flavored olive oil or lightly spread it on whole-grain bread for a tasty alternative to butter.
Substitute fish and poultry for red meat. Avoid sausage, bacon and other high-fat meats.

Limit higher fat dairy products such as whole or 2% milk, cheese and ice cream. Switch to skim milk, fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese.
Eat fish once or twice a week. Water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are healthy choices. Avoid fried fish, unless it's sautéed in a small amount of olive oil.

Keep walnuts, almonds, pecans and Brazil nuts on hand for a quick snack.
If it's OK with your doctor, go ahead and have a glass of red wine at dinner with your pasta or fish. If you don't drink alcohol, you don't need to start.

Incorporating The Mediterranean Lifestyle
To make this diet your own, choose plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, limit red meats, eat lots of fish (without rich, high-cal sauces or dips), substitute olive oil in your daily cooking, snack on some nuts, and eliminate trans fats and hydrogenated oils. This heart-healthy eating plan has all the core components to help you achieve lifestyle balance. Exercise and physical activity are also a large part of benefiting from this diet.

Author's Bio: 

Chester Ku-Lea is a health nutrition consultant and is the owner of
http://AstroNutrition.com and http://AstroSupplements.com - a provider of premium health nutrition and sports supplements. Visit his daily fitness and lifestyle blog at http://AstroNutrition.com/Blog