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A Collegiette’s Guide to The Mediterranean Diet

 

 

Trying to diet is almost as scary as trying to spell “Mediterranean”.  However, the Mediterranean diet is not typical; it requires an entire lifestyle change. There is no guarantee to lose a certain number of pounds within a given time span, but there is the promise to a happier and healthier way of life. Unlike other high-protein/low-carb diets (ahem….Atkins), this one has been around for centuries and still hasn’t been written off by nutritionists. Best of all, it wasn’t created by some dietician trying to make bank.

Now, for a brief history of the Mediterranean diet. Long ago on the Greek island of Crete, inhabitants were much too poor to afford anything other than locally sourced food.  Interestingly enough, these people were healthier than those who could afford the fancier stuff.  Think of those who choose Nutrisystem or Weight Watchers instead of turning to natural food.  Who’s usually more successful in weight loss? 

This diet, consisting largely of monounsaturated fats, fruits, and veggies, has transformed from the designated Cretian diet into a health craze endorsed by Dr. Oz himself.  So why not give it a try?  After all, college girls are much like the Cretians in that we have limited sources of food (the café…the Ratt….Hamden Plaza….ugh) and little money to purchase it with.  Put your meal plan and work-study cash to good use with a diet that is easy to maintain and hard to hate on.  Here are some simple ways to ease yourself into the Mediterranean life.

 

1.                    Olive oil is always the answer. It can be used for everything from seasoning to pan greasing, replacing butter and heavy sauces or dressings.  As my mother always says, combining olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper makes everything taste good.  It’s much easier to keep these few ingredients around at all times instead of buying a new seasoning for every dish you make.  With what the rest of the Mediterranean diet entails, this is all you need.

2.                    Bid red meat (a semi permanent) goodbye.  Most people who follow the Mediterranean diet only eat red meat a couple of times per month.  And the other 28 days? Fatty fish like salmon, and (less often) poultry are the replacements.  Because eating too much of one thing is never good, whether that be red meat or fish, turn to nuts and beans as another source of protein.  Fish is really the only part of this diet that you may need to splurge on in the café or the seafood section of Stop & Shop.

3.                    Look for “omega-3” on nutrition labels.  This is the factor that makes Mediterranean food as healthy as it is.  Omega-3’s are considered an “essential fatty acid” found in fish, nuts, olive oil, and beans.  Therefore, don’t put something back on the shelf just because there appears to be high fat content; monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good to go, but saturated and trans fats contain nothing beneficial for your body.  The healthy fats not only keep you full, but also help preserve youthful skin and improve heart health (heart disease is the number one killer of women, followed by breast cancer).

4.                    Exercise!  The Cretians embraced physical activity, largely because their work consisted of manual labor. As stated earlier, this is not a diet that claims to work miracles (which NONE actually live up to, by the way).  It holds you responsible for taking care of your body in more ways than controlling what you eat for a few days.  One study shows that between the healthy fats and endorphin elevation that comes with this diet, those who tried it had increased levels of happiness.  The more elements of this diet that you adopt, the easier it is to keep up with it and eventually not even think of it in terms of a diet or exercise “plan”.

5.                    Fruits and veggies provide all of the sugar and carbs that you need.  Here’s where no specifics are necessary.  All fruits and vegetables are welcome in the Mediterranean diet, and can be eaten at any time of the day, during any meal.   The more fruits and vegetables, the better.  Simple carbs, like the kind found in white bread, are not a priority….and sweets are even less of a priority.  Also, potatoes don’t count as vegetables!  Replace the rice or pasta on your plate with a sweet potato – they are essentially a perfect source of complex carbs, vitamins, and more!

6.                    You can have some cheese with that wine….in moderation.  Red wine and dairy products, like cheese, milk, and eggs, are consumed now and then when eating like a Mediterranean.  A glass of red wine per day, for example, is acceptable and actually very heart healthy.  Warning: avoid drinking wine that comes from a box or sliced cheese individually wrapped in saran.  Neither will benefit you in any way, shape, or form.

 

These are the basic ground rules of the Mediterranean diet, and will become much more routine as you condense it into your daily life.  Remember that most diets and health crazes are bullshit – the real way to drop pounds and keep them off for more than a week is to install them into your daily life.  The greatest parts of the Mediterranean diet are that it’s easy, cheap, and thoroughly enjoyable. 

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