Knowing the principles of the Mediterranean diet is one thing, but consistently getting food onto your plate that fits the bill (when not on holiday in Greece or Italy!) can be another. Heed as many of the following as often as possible and, before you know it, your diet will be (almost) effortlessly made over the Mediterranean way.
1 Cover half of your plate with colourful vegetables
To be effective, the Mediterranean diet relies on a high intake of vegetables. Based on the most recent Australian Health Survey, 92 per cent of us aren’t eating the recommended five or six serves of vegies a day. A simple, science-approved way to rectify this is by covering half your plate with non-starchy vegetables at lunch and dinner every day.
2 Stock up on canned and frozen fish
In Australia, we’re advised to enjoy two or three serves of fish a week, which ties in with the Mediterranean diet recommendations. This translates to at least 300g of fish a week, but Australians on average are only consuming roughly half that amount. This means that 80 per cent of us aren’t getting sufficient amounts of heart-healthy, marine-based omega-3s from our diet. One fuss-free solution is to keep fish-based options in your pantry and freezer, so you can easily add a can of tuna, sardines or salmon to a salad for lunch one or two days a week, and defrost and cook a piece of fish for dinner.
3 Make ‘meat-free Monday’ a habit
If you’re a meat eater, this is a great way to start serving and eating more plant-based meals. Even though the Mediterranean diet doesn’t require ditching meat for good, a 2021 study found a third of meat eaters who regularly took part in meat-free Monday went fully vegetarian after five years. Visit meatfreemondays.com to find out more about this movement launched in 2009.
Considered the best way to eat as we age, the Mediterranean diet is linked to a reduced risk of dementia and inflammation.
4 Swap potatoes for legumes
Potatoes do make a regular appearance in the Mediterranean diet, but replacing them with lentils, chickpeas or cannellini beans is one way to squeeze more legumes into meals. Eating legumes daily is a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet and 75 per cent of Australians are not doing this regularly. Legumes instead of potatoes also provide an extra hit of protein, and researchers believe the relatively rich protein in the Med-style diet is another reason for it being the best eating pattern for good health as we age.
5 Eat a handful of nuts for morning tea
Packed with protein, healthy fats, fibre, vitamins and minerals, nuts are another key part of the Med diet. Unfortunately, only two per cent of Australians are eating the advised 30g of nuts a day. Try eating them at the same time each day, as this will help turn the behaviour into a habit. As for what 30g of nuts looks like, it’s basically a small handful. If you want to get specific, aim for 20 almonds, 15 cashews, 10 Brazil nuts or 10 walnuts.
6 Enjoy fruit and veg as snacks
Only one in 10 adult Australians is eating enough vegetables every day, and only one in two eats the recommended two serves of fruit a day. “Snacking on fruit and vegetables during the day is a great way to increase your intake,” says says Dr Katherine Livingstone from Deakin University’s Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition. “For example, try having some capsicum or sugar snap peas as a snack instead of a biscuit or cake.”
7 Only use olive oil
Liberal use of olive oil is a big part of the Mediterranean diet and research confirms that, even on its own, olive oil has a big, beneficial impact on our immune system and inflammatory responses. To bump up your intake, make it your go-to oil at home. A high-quality olive oil has a low, free-fatty acid content and a high smoke point, so you can use it in everything from salad dressings to pan-frying and roasting. Use it in place of butter, too.
A Med-style diet centres around plant-based foods, with fish a few times a week and olive oil the main source of added fat.
8 Replace white with wholegrain
Wholegrain cereal foods are a vital part of the Mediterranean diet and deliver a wide range of health benefits, including protecting against heart disease and being beneficial for gut health. Unfortunately, only one-third of all cereal foods eaten by Australians is wholegrain. A quick and simple way to boost your intake is by replacing white rice, breads and pastas with brown rice, wholemeal wholegrain bread, and wholemeal pasta.
9 Make a meal of it
Consider the Mediterranean diet a lifestyle more than a diet. Enjoying food in good company has a significant social benefit so, as often as possible, switch off the TV and spend time with friends and loved ones while you eat.
10 Flavour dishes with herbs and spices
Incorporating flavoursome herbs and spices into dishes significantly reduces the need to add salt, so start building up a collection. Try chilli flakes, dried oregano, cumin and pepper. Store them in easy sight in your kitchen, since research confirms you’ll use them more if they’re easy to see and reach. Being reminded of a herbs and spice ‘salt substitute’ will also reduces the desire for that salty flavour hit.
For more advice on the Mediterranean diet, we recommend: Ask the experts: Mediterranean diet or 5 of the best Mediterranean meals.