Focus on plant foods
On typical American plates, meat is usually the star, probably followed by a starch such as potatoes or rice. The stars of a Mediterranean diet are fresh plant foods such as fruits and vegetables, nuts, and legumes (beans and peas). These ingredients are Mediterranean dishes. “Start by eating five or more servings of produce each day and plan a meatless meal, such as Italian garden pizza, at least one night a week,” advises Julie Upton, a registered dietitian in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Start most meals with a tomato-based salad or soup, and finish your meals with fresh fruit or fruit-based desserts, such as baked apples or crumbles.”
Choose better carbohydrates
Avoid cookies, chips, crackers, flavored rice mixes, mashed potatoes, and other refined carbohydrates, which are usually stripped of good fiber and loaded with added sugar, not to mention possible trans fats. Instead, the Mediterranean diet invites you to indulge in high-quality or complex carbohydrates. “In addition to enjoying plenty of whole grains like oats, bulgur, and couscous, fresh bread is a staple of the region and pasta is Italy’s main source of carbohydrates,” says Upton.
That said, whole grains and fortified breads are usually eaten as part of a healthy meal, often served with olive oil or bean or nut-based dips or sauces such as hummus or muhammara (red pepper and walnut dip) instead of butter or sugary jam. . “When choosing bread, opt for whole wheat or make sure your breads aren’t loaded with added sugars or saturated fat,” says Upton.
Make friends with oil
Choose heart-healthy olive oil instead of butter. “Use olive oil in salad dressings, when cooking fish and poultry, and to dip bread in it instead of spreading on butter or margarine,” says Jennifer Glockner, a registered dietitian nutritionist in the Los Angeles area. “Try using olive oil in egg or tuna salads instead of mayonnaise. Add olives to salads or sandwiches.”
Rebecca Lewis, an internally registered dietitian at HelloFresh, recommends swapping butter, an animal saturated fat associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, for olive oil, a plant-based unsaturated fat associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. “Remember, oils have a smoke point — the temperature at which they burn and lose their healthful properties,” Lewis warns. “Extra virgin oil has the lowest of all smoke points and thus burns the easiest. Therefore, when cooking, choose regular olive oil, which has a higher smoke point.”