May is Mediterranean Diet Month, a time to celebrate the food traditions of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea including Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey and Morocco.
Touted as one of the healthiest ways of eating, it’s easy, budget-friendly, and well, really not so much a diet (as in, “I’m on a diet”), as a lifestyle.
So, if it really isn’t a “diet” per se, you may wonder if it’s possible for people to lose weight when they follow it. For many people, they can.
We had the opportunity to connect with Maryrose Agel, RDN, dietitian and in-store nutrition expert for Shoprite, Spotswood, New Jersey about the Med diet and weight goals. Through the store, she works with people who want to lose weight and encourages her participants to follow the principles of the Med diet.
Because the Med diet is about eating a balance of fruits and vegetables, lean meats such as chicken and ﬁsh, whole grains, legumes and beans, nuts, seeds, dairy, eggs, olives and olive oil, you’ll have plenty of nutritious and delicious choices to put on your plate. The key is to eat a balance of these foods and enjoy them in moderation. Studies have repeatedly conﬁrmed the health beneﬁts of this way of eating, including being more eﬀective than a low-fat diet when it comes to weight loss.
According to Maryrose, contrary to popular belief, eating well can be aﬀordable. She explains, “the Mediterranean Diet lifestyle can be budget friendly if you choose produce that’s in season and locally grown, it’s nutrient dense and low cost. If buying fresh is not an option or if you want to add variety to your diet, choose frozen or canned veggies and fruit which is equally nutritious and economical.” Frozen and canned items are perfect for keeping in your pantry as they’re always ready for last minute meal ideas or stretching your food budget. Be sure to look for items that are low in sodium with no added sugars.
In addition to the delectable foods of this region, other aspects of this way of life include enjoying the pleasures of the table with family and friends, staying physically active each day (such as an after-dinner walk or taking the stairs whenever possible), choosing whole foods over processed, and cooking meals at home.
As you enjoy the ﬂavorful foods of the Mediterranean Diet, these practical tips can help you stay on track with your weight loss goals:
- Know what you’re eating. When buying processed foods, read the ingredient list and Nutrition Facts panel to understand exactly what’s in your food, the calories, and serving size. Maryrose suggests to “use the Daily Value and the 5/20 rule for a quick and easy way to read the label. Five percent is considered low and 20% is considered high.” Identifying foods with high levels (at least 20% DV) of healthy vitamins and nutrients and low levels (less than 5% DV) of sodium, saturated fats, and sugars will help you know which foods to reach for most often.
- Don’t skip meals, doing so can make you ravenous and more prone to raiding the fridge or vending machine.
- Cook and enjoy more meals at home. You’ll likely save calories as well as intake of fat, sugar and sodium when you control the ingredients.
- Maryrose encourages “engaging in mindful eating by enjoying every bite of food and the conversation of family and friends” which can help us feel fuller with less food.
- Cook once. Eat twice. When planning family dinners, keep lunch in mind. For example, when roasting a chicken, making a whole grain or pasta dish, or making soup or chili, make extra for lunch. It’s economical and helps cut food waste, too.
- Another tip from Maryrose to follow as you pack your lunch for the day is to keep food safety in mind. Include an ice pack to keep your cold foods cold and an insulated container to keep hot foods hot.
- Stay hydrated. Liquids, such as water, unsweetened tea, coﬀee, 100% fruit juice, as well as hydrating foods such as fruits and veggies help keep our joints, organs, and brain functioning properly. Before grabbing a high-calorie treat, drink a glass of water. Often times, we think we’re hungry, but we’re actually dehydrated. That glass of water may just save you extra calories you really don’t want to consume.
- Did you know that sleep is an essential aspect of a healthy lifestyle – and even our waist size? According to Maryrose, there’s a correlation between the amount of sleep we get with our body mass index. If you ﬁnd you’re not getting 7-8 hours a sleep per night, make a routine before bedtime and set the stage for a good night’s sleep. Start by turning oﬀ the TV, computer and cell phone, make sure your room is dark and cool, and then close your eyes and enjoy your well-deserved beauty sleep.
This May celebrate the goodness of the Mediterranean Diet lifestyle and see how easy it is to incorporate it into your daily routine. As Maryrose just showed us, following the Med Diet is fairly simple. Eat a balanced diet of wholesome foods, get daily activity and enjoy the meals you’ve prepared with family and friends. Soon you’ll be enjoying this way of life (and the beneﬁts) every month of the year!
For more information on the Mediterranean Diet, check out the Mediterranean Foods Alliance. Additional resources can be found in our Oldways Nutrition Exchange (ONE) April “Healthy Weight Loss” toolkit.