If you think of those living on the Mediterranean coast, what image comes to mind? Is it one of sunshine, delicious food accompanied by a glass of wine, and longevity?

The specific food you picture likely differs based on whether your image is of individuals living in Greece, Italy, Spain, or France, but one thing is certain: a Mediterranean diet has far-reaching health benefits that you can adopt in your own life.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the Mediterranean diet has ranked number #1 as the “best diet” for the past 2 years. But this “diet” isn’t a quick fix diet plan; it’s a lifestyle.

No matter what region of the Mediterranean you visit, eating focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats like olive oil, nuts and seeds, and even a glass or two of wine. The Mediterranean diet suggests moderate consumption of fish and dairy products, and infrequent intake of red meat, saturated fats, added sugar, and processed foods. Numerous research studies demonstrate that this style of eating may reduce your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, as well as increase longevity.

Just in time for American Heart Month, you can adopt the principles of the Mediterranean diet without completely overhauling your lifestyle, to improve your health.

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Here are 5 Ways for the Mediterranean Diet to Fit Your Lifestyle:

1. Add More Plants to Your Day

The Harvard School of Public Health created a Mediterranean diet pyramid, which recommends plant-based foods as the largest component of the Mediterranean diet.

Plant-based foods include those that are derived from plants, including:

  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans and legumes
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Herbs and spices

These foods contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that help thwart chronic diseases and promote optimal health, including heart health. Some studies show that by consuming more antioxidants from plant foods, and less saturated fat from meat and dairy, there is less damage to blood vessels and heart cells.

Make it easy to add more of these foods to your diet by relying on exclusively plant-based meals several times per week.

2. Utilize Meat as A Garnish

Most Americans over-consume meat. Since the focus of the Mediterranean diet is on plant-based foods, it makes sense to use meat as a garnish, not the main attraction on your plate. Instead, fill up with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and legumes, adding meat as a flavorful addition.

To start embracing the Mediterranean diet as part of your lifestyle, cut your portion of meat or poultry in half. While this may take some time to adjust to, you will save money, improve your health, and prep meals faster than ever before.

3. Focus on Healthy Fats

A staple of the Mediterranean diet is healthy fats. These include olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds, which are composed of predominantly heart-healthy unsaturated fats.

Healthy fats are especially beneficial for heart health. Although the research on saturated fat intake and heart disease is muddled, we know that unsaturated fat helps reduce your risk of heart disease. Experts suggest replacing the majority of saturated fat in your diet with unsaturated fat.

Here are a few ways you can include more healthy fats in your diet:

  • Cook with olive oil or avocado oil instead of coconut oil
  • Choose fatty fish, like salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring, over other animal proteins, like red meat
  • Add avocado to your meal instead of cheese
  • Snack on nuts and seeds instead of fried chips
  • Swap out some butter for avocado when baking

4. Pour Yourself a Glass of Wine

If you’ve ever visited the Mediterranean region, it may seem that wine is more common than water! This is because the consumption of red wine is celebrated.

Some researchers speculate that resveratrol, a substance found in the skin of red grapes, contributes to the heart-healthy benefits of this popular Mediterranean beverage.

To fit the Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle, when you enjoy a glass of wine, choose red wine over other alcoholic beverages, and limit your intake to 1-2 glasses for men and women, respectively. One glass of wine is equivalent to 5 ounces. Remember, moderate alcohol consumption – not excessive intake – has health benefits.

5. Live the Mediterranean Lifestyle

The Mediterranean Diet doesn’t exclusively focus on food. According to the Mediterranean diet pyramid, there are lifestyle factors that contribute to the health benefits of this way of living. Experts suggest staying active and enjoying meals with others are essential for the Mediterranean lifestyle too.

It’s generally accepted that movement has widespread health benefits, like reducing the risk of chronic diseases, easier weight management, and more. Studies also show that those who eat together don’t just eat better and consume more nutrient-rich food, but that children may perform better in school and communicate better.

If you’re looking to improve your health, you can add more plants to your plate, limit portions of animal proteins, choose heart-healthy fats, sip a smarter cocktail, or work to eat with others, and move more. No matter your current lifestyle, you can include aspects of the Mediterranean diet effortlessly.

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