The benefits of the Mediterranean diet are well known. We’ve written about it frequently. While we aren’t fans of restrictive diets, we like the Mediterranean diet because it’s actually a way of eating. It’s all about patterns, balance and enjoying great food!
Many people think that the Mediterranean diet won’t work for them because they don’t like food from that area or they want to stick to the foods of their own culture. But that’s the great thing about it. The name doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat Mediterranean dishes. You can eat meals that suit your tastes, tweak it to fit your style and still reap the benefits.
People in the region eat a lot of whole grains, fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes, olive oil and spices. They eat smaller about of animal products and limit red meat and sugar. They also have strong social connections and get plenty of physical activity.
Cordialis Msora-Kasago, the founder of the African Pot Nutrition, said, “When someone looks up information on heart-healthy foods and sees only images of Mediterranean foods, they start to believe that their cultural foods can’t be included in a heart-healthy plan. People have different tastes, cultures, preferences and access, and a sustainable health plan takes those elements into consideration.”
“I find that using the language ‘Mediterranean diet’ can be construed as a recommendation to eat ‘Mediterranean food,’” said Krista Linares, a dietitian from Los Angeles. “I primarily work with Latino clients who receive a lot of inaccurate messaging about their heritage foods being unhealthy, and positioning another cuisine as the primary example of a healthy diet can reinforce this message. The truth is that all cultural cuisines have the potential to be health-promoting.”
They both point out that you can follow the guidelines of the diet without eating the staples. While whole-grain wheat is traditionally cited in the diet, all whole grains are great. The diet uses olive oil in place of solid fats like lard and butter. But if you prefer canola, peanut, sesame, sunflower or any other healthy type of oil, that works too! The diet praises using a ton of seasoning on food to make it enjoyable and help you focus on your meals — you can use whatever spices you like most!
“Think about eating plants and don’t worry if they are not from the Mediterranean,” said Sara Baer-Sinnott. She is the president of Oldways, the nonprofit that first introduced the Mediterranean diet to the U.S. in the 1990s. “It’s about the pattern, even with different foods, different spices and herbs, and different ways of cooking.”
Thinking about it this way might make switching to the Mediterranean diet less overwhelming if you have wanted to try it but not liked the idea of changing your food. You don’t have to change what you eat, just how you eat it!