Naturopathic Kitchen: The Mediterranean Diet

Salmon, nuts, tomatoes, avocados, and other Mediterranean foods on a table.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The traditional diet of the Mediterranean region is high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and low in processed foods and added sugar. When research came out that people living in France, Spain, Greece, and Italy are overall healthier than those in North America, the Mediterranean diet started to gain popularity in North America as a healthy diet plan. 1 It should be noted that traditional diets from a number of geographic regions that have an emphasis on whole grains, unprocessed food and seafood realize similar health outcomes.

If you want to try this meal plan, start by following these simple guidelines:

Eat More of These:

  • Fish & Seafood (Baked, broiled or grilled)
  • Olive oil
  • Olives
  • Avocado
  • Poultry
  • Whole grains
  • Nuts, seeds, & nut butters
  • Leafy greens 
  • Legumes
  • Herbs and spices

Eat Less of These:

  • Processed meats
  • Refined oils such as canola, safflower, and corn oil
  • Refined grains such as white bread, white rice, and flour tortillas
  • Soda and other sugary beverages
  • Processed snack foods such as potato chips, pretzels, and microwave popcorn

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Cardiovascular Health

The Mediterranean diet is linked to improved cardiovascular health. Studies show that following this diet may lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. 2 This is because the foods in the Mediterranean diet slow the progression of plaque buildup in the arteries, which is a main contributor to cardiovascular disease. 3 

Improved Brain Health

Following the Mediterranean diet is associated with improved brain functioning, including better focus, memory, and processing speed. 4 Research finds that following this diet reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease as well as lowers the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in older adults. 5 6 

Blood Sugar Management

Because of its low carbohydrate and high nutrient levels, the Mediterranean diet could aid in blood sugar management. Following this diet plan has been shown to help stabilize blood sugar levels, decrease insulin resistance, and protect against type 2 diabetes. 7 8 One study found that participants following the Mediterranean diet were 52% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes when compared with a control group. 9 

Mediterranean Red Lentil Soup with Herbs

Recipe courtesy of Bastyr University.

This Mediterranean-inspired soup dish is hearty and full of whole foods.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2  medium carrots
  • 2  ribs celery with leaves, chopped
  • 3  minced garlic cloves
  • 2  fresh bay leaves
  • 1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
  • 4 cup water
  • 1  14 oz. bottle crushed tomatoes
  • 1  14 oz. bottle tomato sauce
  • 3⁄4 tsp sea salt
  • 1⁄2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1⁄2 cup fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1⁄2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1  bunch spinach, chopped 

Instructions

In a 4-quart soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions, carrots, and celery and sauté until onion is soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 1 minute.  Add bay leaves, red lentils, water, tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer over medium heat and cook until lentils are tender, about 20-25 minutes. Add more water if needed. Remove bay leaves. Add spinach and simmer for another few minutes until just wilted. Add parsley and basil, and stir through. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil on top when served, if desired.

 

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