May is Mediterranean Diet Month! I know a lot of you have heard about it, but what exactly IS the Mediterranean diet? 🙂 It’s based on foods commonly eaten in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea – like Italy, Greece, and Spain. Why would you want to eat like people from these countries? Well, studies are showing that, compared to the typical American diet, they have a much lower risk of many lifestyle diseases and have improved heart health. These diseases include helping prevent heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes and premature death. If that isn’t enough to convince you to try the diet, it has also been linked to losing weight, which can be a contributing factor to many of these diseases. Surely now you’re keen to try the Mediterranean diet?
So what is it? It’s not a strict eating plan. As you can tell by the name, it encompasses the diets of people living next to the ocean (who have diets higher in fish), people who live in certain cultures and different religions. There are some basic premises that lead to health benefits.
The basics of the Mediterranean diet are eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, nuts (such as walnuts), seeds, legumes (have a look for white beans), potatoes, whole grains, bread, herbs, spices, fish (especially fatty fish), seafood and extra virgin olive oil. As you can see there’s a lot of delicious foods in there. There’s also a lot of variety so you are guaranteed to never get bored. Once you’ve packed your plate with all of this, you only want to eat poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt (I love Greek yogurt!) in moderation. You’ll only rarely eat red meat. You might have noticed that most of the food groups are mentioned, but the things that aren’t included are just as important. You’ll want to cut back on refined sugar, refined grains, processed meats and other highly processed foods.
You may have also heard that you can enjoy moderate amounts of red wine which is true. Obviously you want to avoid this if you cannot control your drinking as you don’t want to drink excessively. Make sure you’re also maintaining a good level of physical activity on this diet to help protect you from heart disease.
Here are some good resources for more information if you’re interested:
Even though many of us don’t live in the Mediterranean area – we can still enjoy the benefits and keep your hearts healthy 🙂 I partnered up this week with California Walnuts (at https://walnuts.org/) – and have tailored my weekly meal plan to the Mediterranean way of eating. Walnuts have historically been a key part of the Mediterranean diet – US walnuts are primarily grown in California because the climate is similar to that of Mediterranean countries (should we all move??).
You’ve probably heard walnuts associated with “brain food” – or that they are good for the brain. But why is that? Walnuts are the only tree nut that is an excellent source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based omega-3 essential fatty acid (2.5g of ALA per 1 oz – or ¼ cup – of walnuts). Omega-3s are found in our brain cells and help our brain cells communicate with each other. We need to get them in from diet because we can’t create them ourselves. And walnuts are a fab way to get them. Finals coming up anyone?
As you’ve noticed, we’ve talked about heart health quite a lot here too and walnuts are great for your heart. Studies have shown that for each gram of ALA you consume a day, it lowers your risk of heart attack by 10%. Woah. That’s an outsized impact from consuming just a few nuts a day. Make sure you’re including walnuts in your diet!
There are also a lot of new studies starting to come out discussing gut health and the importance of looking after our gut bacteria. Our gut has an impact on everything from our ability to digest food, our mental health and even our cravings. Our crazy is that! It’s early days yet in research in our digestive health, but one recent study looked specifically at walnuts and saw positive impacts from consuming the nuts. More of the good bacteria were present at the end of the study proving that the walnuts were having a beneficial impact.
So now you know walnuts are going to help your heart, your brain as well as your gut. You can see why people on the mediterranean diet love including a few walnuts in their meals each day. If you’re struggling with weight loss, walnuts have also been shown to help to decrease hunger. If you’re starting on a weight loss journey and are struggling with wanting to eat more or snack inbetween meals, reach for some walnuts. They’ll help you feel fuller for longer without adding a large amount of calories to your daily intake.
You’ll notice I’ve kept this meal plan quite simple. I like to make plans quite repetitive so that I can ensure I’m not wasting food, I can batch cook a lot of my meals and I can know in advance what I’m eating for the week. There are a few ways you could mix this plan up or make your own.
Also, an important note: sticking to a Mediterranean diet does NOT mean you have to spend a lot on groceries! I’m not sure why people believe that eating like this can end up costing a lot. You’re sticking with healthy, whole food ingredients and cooking simple meals. This can taste delicious without costing the earth. This whole weekly meal plan is only $48.18. Yes, really! You can eat a whole week’s worth of healthy, delicious food for cheap. Let’s get cookin’!
Mediterranean Meal Plan
Walnuts, 1 3.75-cup bag
Eggs, 2 dozen
Canned roasted tomatoes, 2 15-oz cans
Tomatoes, 10 medium
Cucumbers, 5 medium cucumbers
Feta cheese crumbles, 2 6-oz tubs
Dark chocolate, 5 280-calorie bars
Spinach greens, 5 4-cup bags
Canned salmon, 1 15-oz can
½ cup canned, roasted tomatoes
1 small tomato, chopped
1/8 cup chopped walnuts
1/8 cup feta cheese
Seasonings: salt, pepper, basil, oregano to taste
Instructions: Spray pan with olive oil spray. Add tomatoes. Crack eggs into pan. Cook on medium heat covered, for ~8 minutes. Top with feta and walnuts.
Calories: 350; Carbohydrates: 14gm; Protein: 19gm; Fat: 22gm
Mediterranean Lunch Box
2 hard boiled eggs
¼ cup walnuts
1 cucumbers, chopped
1 tomato, chopped
½ bar dark chocolate
Seasonings: salt, pepper, basil, oregano to taste
Instructions for Israeli salad: mix tomato & cucumber; top with seasoning to taste
Calories: 525; Carbohydrates: 72gm; Protein: 24gm; Fat: 27gm
Dinner Greens & Salmon Patty
4 cups spinach greens
1/8 cup feta cheese crumbles
1/8 cup walnuts
½ avocado (for on the side)
Directions: spray pan with olive oil spray; sauté greens on medium heat for ~4 minutes until desired consistency. Top with walnuts and feta.
Salmon patties – makes 5 servings
1 can salmon
1/3 cup crushed walnuts
Directions: drain salmon in can. Mix salmon and egg in large bowl. Create 5 patties. Press patties on both sides into crushed walnuts until coated. Spray pan with olive oil spray. Cook patties on medium heat in a covered pan, ~7 minutes on each side.
Calories: 450; Carbohydrates: 13gm; Protein: 27gm; Fat: 33gm
NEED A SNACK? These meals are healthy, filling, and delicious, but if you find yourself needing a pick-me-up or two throughout the day try some of my personal favorites! Click here to see them.
This post is sponsored by California Walnuts. As always, all opinions are my own.
If you are looking for the EASIEST and most realistic weight loss program – that works for the LONG term (it incorporates weekly meal plans, how to stop stress & boredom eating, AND an accountability group) – check out my program HERE!