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Five Tips to Get Started on the Mediterranean Diet

October 5, 2020

You may have heard that the Mediterranean Diet was named the best diet for 2019. Every year, health experts with U.S. News evaluate and rank various diets that are on the market. According to their report “to be top-rated, a diet had to be relatively easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss and protective against diabetes and heart disease.”

This is the second consecutive year that the Mediterranean Diet has taken the top spot, likely because of the easy to follow approach. Instead of focusing on what you cannot eat, the method focuses on the addition of good foods into your diet. With the addition of more nutritious foods, you are likely to eat less unhealthy foods as a result. In addition, results from a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrate that following a Mediterranean Diet approach also lowers your cardiovascular risk – which is an added benefit.

This approach also aligns with the principles taught at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center, emphasizing fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats in the diet. Pairing these changes with an active lifestyle is an excellent combination to achieve the best health effects.

This is the second consecutive year that the Mediterranean Diet has taken the top spot, likely because of the easy to follow approach.

Wondering where to start?

Duke Diet and Fitness Center Nutrition Director and Registered Dietitian, Elisabetta Politi, recommends starting slowly when beginning a Mediterranean approach. “The first step is to evaluate how your current dietary patterns align with the Mediterranean recommendations”. Once you identify where you are, Elisabetta recommends choosing one goal at a time to slowly adjust your lifestyle to a Mediterranean approach.

“The first step is to evaluate how your current dietary patterns align with the Mediterranean recommendations” Duke Diet and Fitness Center Nutrition Director and Registered Dietitian, Elisabetta Politi.

Here are five tips for achieving these goals:

1. Focus on building your meals from scratch using fresh, non-processed products to achieve the most health benefits.

Fruits, vegetables, and grains are staples to the Mediterranean diet. Try adding this Mediterranean Quinoa recipe to your next meal for some fresh flavor full of vegetables.

2. Try seasoning your food with herbs and spices instead of salt, sugar, and fat.

Wondering where to use herbs and spices? Check out the Duke Health & Well-Being guides for cooking with herbs and spices.

Herbs are always the leaves of plants and spices are different parts of plants; they can be either roots/rhizomes, flowers, fruits, seeds, or bark.

3. Use extra virgin olive oil instead of butter when cooking.

The use of olive oil is at the core of the Mediterranean Diet and seems to be the easiest swap without compromising taste or flavor. For additional sources of healthy fats, try adding in other heart-healthy foods such as avocados, nuts, and oily fish like salmon and sardines; among these, walnuts and fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids.

4. Aim for consuming fish at least twice per week, while limiting red meat consumption.

The Mediterranean Diet approach focuses on increased fish intake and encourages the consumption of other animal proteins such as poultry, eggs, and dairy (cheese or yogurt) in smaller portions either daily or a few times a week.

5. Get your source of unsaturated fats from nuts and seeds.

Aim to choose nuts in their raw or roasted form to get the most nutritional benefit. Try to skip the nuts in the candied form because they contain added sugar and can be harmful to your health if consumed in excess.

Overall, the Mediterranean Diet can be beneficial for everyone as it has proven effects for CVD (Cardio Vascular Disease) prevention, increased lifespan, and healthy aging. When paired with calorie restriction, this approach can also promote weight loss. Remember that it is up to each individual as to how much of each food group you consume and this should be based on your personal calorie goals.

Author: Alyssa King, Duke Diet & Fitness Center Dietetic Intern from Meredith College with the supervision of Christine B. Tenekjian, MPH, RD, LDN – Clinical Dietitian.

About Duke Health & Well-Being Nutrition & Lifestyle Services

Our individualized nutrition services are utilized to treat specific health conditions, manage weight healthfully, and to attain optimal vitality through a wholesome diet. Our nutritionists understand that getting on the right path toward your health goals is a process that requires support, adjustment, and taking small steps to make lasting and positive changes. Work with a nutritionist to discover the connection between food, movement, stress, and rest and make strategic changes to your diet that will help you achieve your goals.

Services Available

Integrative Nutrition at Integrative Medicine
Diet & Nutrition Counseling at the Diet and Fitness Center
Nutrition Consultations at the Health and Fitness Center

Duke Diet & Fitness Center
Elisabetta Politi, RD, MPH, LDN, CDE – Nutrition Director
Christine B. Tenekjian, MPH, RD, LDN – Clinical Dietitian

Duke Health & Fitness Center
Kara Mitchell – Wellness Manager, Exercise Physiologist & Dietitian/Nutritionist
Jenni Biggs – Dietitian/Nutritionist – Clinical Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator

Duke Integrative Medicine
Joanne Gardner, MS, RDN, LDN – Integrative Dietitian / Nutritionist
Jill Brown, MS, RDN, IFNCP, CLT – Integrative Dietitian / Nutritionist



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