Seven Rules for Eating Mediterranean Style

The Mediterranean diet is easy to incorporate into your life, and full of delicious, satisfying foods.

Just follow these seven rules.

1. Load up on vegetables andfruits. You can pretty much go wild in this category. Eat five to ten servings of fresh, nonstarchy vegetables and fruits every day. Studies show that eating at least seven servings of fresh fruit and vegetables each day significantly improves health and lowers mortality rates. Sadly, the average American consumes far less than this, so strive to make seven your lucky number every day.

2. Keep servings of animal protein small. Protein is essential for the growth and maintenance of every cell, tissue, and organ in your body. But, compared to Westerners, traditional

Mediterranean societies consume much less in the way of beef, poultry, and pork, while still getting plenty of protein through plant-based sources and seafood.

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3. Eat two servings of fish per week. Fish, especially those containing omega-3 fatty acids, can help fight inflammation. Studies show that those who consume high amounts of omega-3s have lower levels of inflammatory mediators like interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein. A four-ounce serving of fish, two to three times a week, is recommended although the Mediterranean communities with the greatest longevity eat seafood every day. The best fish sources of omega-3s are anchovies, herring, sardines, salmon, and other cold-water fish.

4. Emphasize monounsaturatedfats. Monounsaturated fats (found in high amounts in olive oil and canola oil) can be good for your heart if they are eaten in moderation, especially if they replace the less-healthy saturated fats and trans fatty acids in your diet. Olives and avocados are also high in monounsaturated fats and can be eaten in moderation.

5. Include nuts, seeds, and legumes. Nuts and seeds are good sources of both healthy fats and antioxidants; they also help keep your appetite under control. Studies have shown that people who eat nuts regularly tend to have lower body weights than those who don’t, even though nuts have plenty of calories. Legumes (such as lentils, dried peas or beans, chickpeas, and peanuts) are great sources of vegetable protein and fiber, and contain important minerals like potassium, magnesium, and zinc. I like to bring a small bag of nuts to work to snack on, which helps me avoid eating less-healthy temptations.

6. Change your dairy habits. While dairy products are commonly seen in traditional Mediterranean diets, the types of products they consume have a few distinguishing traits. Cultured forms of milk, such yogurt or kefir, are favored, both of which help improve the gut microflora. Cow’s milk is not consumed often; many of their delicious cheeses come from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk.

7. Eat whole grains. Whole grains (unrefined grains that haven’t had the bran and germ removed, such as whole wheat, buckwheat, and brown rice) are high in fiber and slow the release of glucose into the blood. As a result, you’ll experience fewer blood sugar spikes than you would with refined grains (white flour, white rice, white bread, and degermed cornflower), helping to keep inflammation levels lower. Whole grains also contain several antioxidants, minerals, and trace minerals not found in refined grains. Try using products like farro, bulgur, and quinoa in your cooking. An interesting note: Some studies have linked the fermenting process involved in making sourdough bread to positive changes in the gut microflora.

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