My Personal Journey Swapping to the Mediterranean Diet

It’s no secret that the Mediterranean Diet is healthy; it’s been growing in popularity outside the region for many years. Yet, I’d still not contemplated it or knew much about it before moving to Spain. I’m now a whole-hearted advocate for this beautiful way of eating and living. It’s not to say I never cheat and have the odd naughty treat like crisps but the Med Diet is more forgiving than most and it’s not supposed to be restrictive. 

There’s such a wide choice of foods included I really think anyone could get on board and find a groove with the foods they prefer. Love carbs? They’re allowed. Love fat? They’re the backbone of the diet (think olive oil, avocados, etc.). Love salty things? You’re in for a treat. Love sweet things? These aren’t eaten as much but fruit’s a big focus and desserts are still allowed…on occasion.

Learning About the Mediterranean Diet

I guess the first thing you need to do is find out what the diet’s all about and what it entails. For me, this was definitely made easier by moving to Spain. After all, I was surrounded by people naturally following the diet without thinking about it. 

Having said that, I first moved to Madrid which no one told me was a tapas paradise, which are often served free! Many bars will give you olives, a small tapa, or even let you choose from a selection of dishes and give you one or more with each drink. This did get in the way of me embracing the diet for quite some time. 

Our closest tapas bar was only 100 meters from our house and gave you a giant serving of hot food each time. Two drinks and you couldn’t eat any more! If you’re ever in Madrid, it was called Taberna Las Sobrinas and the head bar person Alex (at the time, not sure about now) was really friendly and made it a little community. 

But I started to piece bits and pieces of the diet together. My first shock was drizzling/heaping olive oil onto dishes like pan con tomate (bread with tomato and lots of olive oil) and salads. It seemed counterintuitive at the start because I’d spent a good part of my life trying to limit oil and fat and here were people pouring it onto food at tables. I’m happy to say I now get it and liberally pour it whenever required (and sometimes when it isn’t because it’s delicious). 

I became curious about the Mediterranean Diet and discovered in just a few clicks that olive oil is ridiculously healthy and can help prevent or treat many chronic diseases. Also being delicious, this was one of those win-wins so I grabbed hold of it. Do be mindful that olive oil is still a fat and too much will lead to weight gain. But don’t be put off, olive oil can help you lose weight if taken regularly in moderation. The diet suggests having some olive oil with every meal and while figures vary, it’s estimated that people in the Med have around 3-4 tablespoons a day on average.

From there I did some short online courses and bought books about the Mediterranean Diet and was hooked. It’s such an easy diet to grasp because it’s not super restrictive. There’s no calorie counting it’s just based on the premise of eating good whole foods. Luckily, I’m a big fan of veg and healthy foods so this was obviously easier for me. If you like nuts, fruit, etc. you’ll likely have no problems with it.

How to Start the Med Diet?

I won’t go into the details here about the Mediterranean Diet as there are so many good resources available but here are some suggestions on important principles. 

  • Olive oil: I know I just mentioned this before but in case you skipped to here, make olive oil your number one change. Sadly, the cost has recently gone up a lot but it’s worth it for all its health benefits, even if you just start drizzling some on salads rather than cooking with it.

  • Fruit & veg: If you’re a sweet tooth and must have dessert after dinner, have some fruit. While desserts are delicious in Spain and other Mediterranean countries like Italy (who doesn’t love a tiramisu?) you’ll often see people order fruit for dessert in restaurants. Eat plenty of veg too. You don’t have to force yourself to eat any you don’t like but try and eat as many different colors because they offer different nutrients and benefits.

  • Cut down on meat: The Med Diet typically suggests limiting red meat to once a week and poultry to once a day. Find some vegetarian or vegan dishes that you love and find satisfying that you can cook on repeat. A good base for a main meal is Mediterranean yellow rice. Tabbouleh is another good one to add to your repertoire either as a light main or side that goes with most things.

  • Snacks: If you like nuts (and aren’t allergic), keep different bags of nuts in the house/car/office. I find these are such an easy way to stay energized between meals and they’re not messy so they make an ideal snack. Otherwise, I also love carrot sticks and hummus or a creamy Greek tzatziki. Sometimes I even just have a small pot of Greek yogurt to get my probiotics in.

    And forget soda or sugary drinks, or drastically cut down if that’s currently a staple in your diet. Try cucumber-infused water if you find it difficult to drink water on its own or a herbal tea.

  • Herbs and spices: This is perhaps one of the biggest joys I found when starting to change to the diet. There are Mediterranean herbs and spices used abundantly in most recipes. This is great because they’re not only healthy but it means you use much less salt in dishes. Not a fan of one herb, swap it for another. Same goes for spices.

  • Desserts and sweets: If you have a sweet tooth, desserts and sweet things aren’t out of the question. The Med diet is all about balance and moderation. And if you’re just making the switch then try cutting down versus cutting out and getting frustrated.

    There are many Mediterranean foods that are sweet and consumed quite regularly. Dates are really popular in many countries around the Med and a great sweet treat. Fruit is also a winner here and eat whatever is in season near you and that you like. Consider making a healthier type of dessert if you want something more filling, like rice pudding.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m going to come back to this and update it as I remember new tricks and pointers. I moved here over five years ago after all and sadly didn’t keep a journal of the move so am doing it retrospectively I suppose. 

In the meantime, if you have any questions, add a comment below or send us an email and I’ll respond. 

Happy healthy cooking and eating, 
Crissy

2 thoughts on “My Personal Journey Swapping to the Mediterranean Diet”

  1. Do you have an email list to sign-up for the blog and recipes.
    I don’t eat salt, meat (I do eat chicken), do eat seafood and fish. I eat plant-based butter.
    My problem with the Mediterranean Diet is I cannot eat Greek Yogurt or Feta cheese. I only eat cheese from a cow.
    Loved the chicken tagliatelle recipe came back for the nutritional info to put on the recipe card today.
    Thank you,

    Reply
    • Hi Pam, thanks for your comment. We don’t have an email list but we try and post one new recipe a week. If you only eat cheese from cow’s milk then try ricotta (the brands you buy in the supermarket are usually made from cow’s milk so just check first). As a bonus, ricotta is lower in salt and fat than most cheeses. And I think one of the best things about the Mediterranean diet is the heavy use of herbs and spices – this means you can add flavor without salt. While we sometimes add a bit of salt for seasoning, if you don’t eat salt it’s easy to sub and many hot dishes will benefit from garlic or onion powder instead or for salads etc. apple cider vinegar or fresh herbs can do the trick. If there are any recipes you see on our site and you’re not sure how to flavor without salt just leave us a comment or ping us an email and one of us will get back to you. I’m so glad you liked the chicken tagliatelle 🙂

      Reply

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