Sick of dieting? Can’t fathom the thought of another “food rule?” If you’re ready to adopt a diet plan that is both realistic and maintainable, look no further.
For the third year in a row, the Mediterranean diet has been named the best overall diet to follow, according to U.S. News & World Report. Criteria from seven different categories were considered when ranking 35 of the most popular diets in the world. Criteria included how easy the plan was to follow, its ability to produce short-term and long-term weight loss, safety, nutritional completeness, and its potential for preventing common chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Sound too good to be true? It’s not. The Mediterranean diet doesn’t ban any food groups, making it an easier meal plan to follow than other elimination diets. Let’s explore the foundation of the diet and how to start eating the Mediterranean way.
More fruits and vegetables: It’s no surprise that a diet that scored top dog would be one that emphasizes these two food groups. Most Americans don’t eat enough produce; aiming for five servings daily will aid with many health goals. If five seems like a lot, simply add one more serving to your current eating pattern and continue to work up to the full five.
Whole grains: A diet that still encourages bread? Count me in! If you find yourself lethargic or hungry, the culprit may be a lack of carbs or fiber consumed. Making one switch while grocery shopping will fill your belly without going over your budget. There is a whole-grain option for every wheat product you can think of. Pasta? Yep. Your morning toast? You got it. Pizza crust? Sure thing, and it’s even tasty.
Healthy fats: Butter is a staple in most households; however, the Mediterranean diet encourages the use of olive oil when cooking. Olive oil contains a hefty dose of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which can help lower cholesterol. Drizzle and sauté veggies and protein, or use it as a base for salad dressing. More than likely, you won’t even notice the difference when making this single swap.
More seafood; limited red meat: Again, this diet doesn’t eliminate food groups, but it does want you to be considerate about portions and cuts. Aim for two servings of seafood a week, while selecting lean red meat choices. A serving of meat is 3-4 ounces, or about the size of an iPhone.
Herbs and spices: Shake it off — the use of salt, that is. Mediterranean cuisine relies heavily on the spice rack, which pumps up the flavor without any added sodium. Turn any basic meal into an impressive dish using fresh mint or rosemary and spices such as ginger and red pepper flakes.
No harsh rules, no off-limit foods, no prepackaged meals. It’s understandable why the Mediterranean diet is consistently a top contender on the best-ranked diet list. When a well-rounded approach to eating isn’t restrictive, magic happens. Take a look at your current meal behaviors and start making small changes where you can. Today seems like the perfect day to stop depriving yourself and start enjoying food again.
One-Pan Mediterranean Chicken Pasta
1 (14-ounce can) quartered artichoke hearts, drained
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup water
Pinch red chili pepper flakes
1/2 pound penne pasta
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
Halve artichoke heart quarters; set aside.
In a large, nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Season chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper; add to skillet. Cook and stir for 2 to 3 minutes or until golden brown, yet slightly undercooked. Stir in garlic; cook for 30 seconds more.
Add chicken broth, water, artichokes, pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper to skillet. Bring mixture to boiling. Stir in pasta, making sure it's fully immersed in the liquid. Cook mixture, covered, on medium heat until bubbly, then simmer for 2 minutes less than pasta package directions.
Remove lid. Stir in lemon juice, capers and tomatoes. Bring mixture to boiling; continue to boil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until sauce is slightly reduced. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in Parmesan cheese and basil. Let stand for 2 to 3 minutes before serving.
Nutrition Information (per serving): 640 calories, 25g fat, 8g saturated fat, 100mg cholesterol, 66g carbohydrates, 12g fiber, 3g sugar, 39g protein, 1740mg sodium
Emily McMillan is a registered dietitian for Hy-Vee stores in Rochester. This information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.