We've all had dreams of living on the Mediterranean. Blue waters, white sand, and mountains looking fake in the background. But TBH, what we're really dreaming about is the food: fresh-caught fish, perfect al dente pasta, handpicked vegetables, creamy cheeses. All foods that are are included on the ever-so-popular Mediterranean diet. You know, the one dietitians, health gurus, and Pinterest boards are all gaga over. And so are we.
Mostly because, well, it's really not a diet. (Diets are the worst!) It's a lifestyle. Forget strict calorie counting or staying within macronutrient guidelines. Instead, this way of eating focuses on getting in plenty of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and grains. Pasta is, of course, one of these grains (insert *praise hands emoji*), providing plant-based proteins and boasting a low glycemic index (meaning less chance of a blood sugar spike and crash). Moderate amounts of fish, poultry, dairy, eggs, and alcohol, mainly in the form of red wine, are also included in the diet. (This just keeps getting better.) Meat, dairy, and processed sugars are on the don't-eat-it-every-day list.
When it comes to its health benefits, the proof is in the pudding (err… the olive tapenade). Research shows that people who live near the Mediterranean Sea and follow their old-school eating patterns face fewer health woes including heart disease, diabetes, and depression. The lifestyle can also seriously help with weight loss.
Before you pack your bags and move to Italy or a sunny Greek isle (although, #goals) to reap the life-prolonging perks of the Mediterranean diet, you can eat like an Italian simply by loading up your grocery cart with these Mediterranean-inspired staples. Cook up the combos below for a week's worth of healthy Mediterranean diet-approved meals.
The Big 10
- Almonds. They add the best crunch to creamy pasta.
- Chicken. Oh, good, because we pretty much eat it every day already.
- Chickpeas. Nope, not just for hummus.
- Dried cherries. These are so underrated.
- Fish. Because you can't live on the Mediterranean without eating fish.
- Fresh mozzarella. More moisture than hard cheese means fewer calories. Who knew?
- Parsley. Nope, not just for garnish.
- Pasta. This is the best “diet” ever. Just keep it to a 2-ounce serving (so basically the size of a baseball).
- Spinach: Gotta get the greens in.
- Tomatoes. Life is better with these juicy fruits.
Put 'Em Together
Fish + Spinach + Almonds
Plate it: Top a plate of baby spinach with chunks of grilled fish, sliced almonds, and a drizzle of olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Pasta + Mozzarella + Cherry tomatoes
Plate it: Toss cooked pasta with chopped mozzarella, halved tomatoes, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and a couple pinches salt.
Chickpeas + Cherry Tomatoes + Spinach
Plate it: In a saucepan, combine tomatoes and chickpeas with a splash of red wine vinegar; simmer 15 minutes and then stir in baby spinach.
Chicken + Chickpeas + Almonds
Plate it: In a bowl, combine grilled chicken with olive oil mayonnaise (or just olive oil), canned chickpeas, chopped almonds, and fresh lemon juice; stuff into whole-grain pitas.
Pasta + Chicken + Parsley
Plate it: Toss cooked pasta with grilled chicken, chopped parsley, and fresh lemon juice.
Dried Cherries + Fish + Parsley
Plate it: Simmer dried cherries with a splash of balsamic vinegar and grated lemon zest until saucy. Plate a handful of spinach topped with grilled fish, parsley, and cherry sauce.
Pasta + Mozzarella + Dried cherries
Plate it: Toss cooked pasta with fresh mozzarella, dried cherries, olive oil, and a couple pinches salt and pepper. For more protein, add in some fish or chicken.