Mediterranean Diet 101: Healthy Eating Habits for the Body and Mind

mediterranean meal plan

The Mediterranean Way 

Dr. Nina Radcliff

Eating the right nutrients helps to keep your body and mind healthy, fortified and functioning properly. Interestingly, research during COVID-19 underscores again that Mediterranean eating habits are a standout in benefitting heart health, boosting immunity – while improving your mood and aiding in managing stress and anxiety

What is the Mediterranean diet plan?

DR. NINA’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: About the Healthy Mediterranean Eating Plan

So how does Mediterranean eating habits help two totally different areas of your body? The foundational reason is that the Mediterranean eating plan is anti-inflammatory, and studies are finding that many chronic diseases are linked to chronic inflammation –body and mind. 

Based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the majority of foods in a Mediterranean eating plan come from plants. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, beans, nuts, seeds, and olive oil are all foods that are included every day. 

What foods to eat on Mediterranean diet

Blending these basics of yummy, healthy eating has been shown to improve mental and physical health. Here are some ideas for your Mediterranean diet plan menu:

  • Fruit and vegetables. Loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, fiber and nutrients, while low in calories, try to include them in every meal and snacking. No single fruit or vegetable can provide all the healthy components your body needs, so incorporate a variety of fruit and veggies to get the full spectrum of benefits. 
  • Whole grains. Wheat, oats, quinoa, barley, popcorn, and rye are “whole-some” foods that contain little or no saturated or trans-fats but plenty of phytochemicals (disease preventive properties), antioxidants, fiber, iron, magnesium, and vitamins B and E—all kinds of good stuff! In addition to tasting yummy, studies have shown that people who eat three daily servings of whole grains may be able to significantly reduce their risk of heart disease (up to 28%), stroke (up to 36%), and type 2 diabetes (up to 30%). 
  • Legumes. A class of veggies that includes lentils, beans, and peas, they have been found among the most versatile and nutritious foods available. They are low in fat, devoid of cholesterol, a good source of protein, and a powerhouse when it comes to important vitamins and minerals (folate, potassium, iron, and magnesium). Their protein content makes it suitable to supplement or substitute for meat. 
  • Nuts and Seeds. Helps to improve blood vessel function, as well as decrease the size of atherosclerotic plaques (fatty plaques within artery walls that impede blood flow to organs) and blood clot formation (can completely block off blood flow). Not only are they a good source of fiber, protein, and healthy fats, but they make great snacks and can be used as a garnish for salads and meals. And, they contain omega-3 fatty acids—crucial to optimal brain function, as well as heart health and mood. Before going nutty, remember that nuts are high in calories and should be consumed in moderation. 
  • Healthy Fats. Olive oil is utilized as a primary source of fat and is great for sauteing, drizzling, flavoring, or dipping foods. It is a monosaturated fat and has the power to lower “bad cholesterol” levels. And, too, olives are rich in vitamin E and other antioxidants, which may help reduce the risk of health conditions like cancer, diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Select “extra-virgin” (no processing) or “virgin” (minimal processing). Processing decreases the amount of antioxidants which lowers its benefits.   
  • Swap Salt for Herbs and Spices.  Parsley, turmeric, paprika, thyme, marjoram and rosemary add healthy tastiness to foods. These items contain antioxidants, disease-fighting agents, and vitamins that can have far-reaching benefits for the health of your body and mind. Of note, while botanically vegetables, garlic and onion are used abundantly for yummy, healthy flavor and make for a great salt alternative.  
  • Fish, Seafood and Poultry. Fatty fish is high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and lean chicken breasts (without skin) are low in fat and have high quality protein. Limit consumption of red meat to a few times a month and cut portion sizes. Studies show that high red meat consumption—in particular, processed meats—elevates risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, colorectal cancer, and can shorten lifespan. When selecting meats, make it lean, not processed. Other excellent protein sources include nuts, low-fat dairy, and whole grain products. 

How to start the Mediterranean diet plan

In addition to the above Mediterranean Diet recommendations, limit/avoid sugars, including sugary beverages such as energy drinks and soda, highly processed foods, refined carbohydrates (white bread, pasta, rice) as well as saturated fats, and fatty or processed meats (hot dogs, processed sausages). 

The Mediterranean eating plan is also a good way to help keep your weight within a healthy range. It’s very palatable and fairly simple, allowing you to enjoy, while gaining the immeasurable benefits – body and mind –for a longer, healthier life as a result of using its guiding principles.  

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.