When I say that there are incorrect ways to adopt the Mediterranean diet, I can speak from experience. I haven’t followed the guidelines all the time. I can’t recall when I first heard of the Med diet, but as I studied to become a doctor, the term appeared in books, journals, and lectures. The name intrigued me, and when I had a closer look at what it was, I saw familiar foods from my youth. Things like fresh seafood, bright vegetables, and rich nuts. And I remember that it was so different from what I saw here in the United States. When I came to the States, I was shocked at all the “fake” food I would see. I could see food on my plate but the Western diet didn’t seem to have much nutritional value in it.
I never really set out to start the Med diet. I grew up in a family that valued whole foods. We’d cook and eat our meals together. My mother would cut up watermelon in the hot summers of Baghdad and we would devour the juicy treats. I would say that the Med diet for me was a natural progression. In this process, I wasn’t consistent with it, and I’d give into eating the Western diet. Likely because it was readily available to me and I wasn’t in Baghdad anymore.
Eventually, I decided to move towards a plant-based version of the Med diet. The animal kingdom is beautiful to me, and I don’t want to contribute to the pain and suffering of animals for my consumption. And cutting out meat is another way I can lower my carbon footprint. One of the other reasons I promote the Med diet is because there is plenty of flexibility and variety. My diet is holistic and it gives me the energy I need to keep up with my new medical practice and family. To help you live holistically, no matter where you are on your food journey, here are five foods that eaten in excess might not be a good thing.
1. Too much meat
I’ll be clear; the Med diet does allow for meat consumption. But from what I’ve learned in my research, it’s best to eat it sparingly, especially red meat. This is not as relevant for the seafood that is included in the Med diet. I recommend eating it once every other week or once a month.
2. Too much olive oil
A tablespoon of olive oil has 119 calories (unfortunately!). So pouring on the olive oil, like I have done so many times, is not good. I usually eat salads, as they are a key part of the Med diet, but when I would make my own dressing, if I used too much olive oil then the salad would become too calorically dense. The thing to remember is that too much olive oil makes a healthy salad not so healthy. Keep the olive oil light when you cook or serve with vegetables, and you will be on your way to a healthy balance. Also, make sure that you’re using an authentic, high-quality oil made in Italy. Just like anything else, quality matters.
3. Too many nuts
To me, nuts in general, especially walnuts, bring back wonderful memories. I remember cracking walnut shells and pulling out the halves as a girl. Even now I can get carried away when I have a bowl of walnuts in front of me and don’t pay attention to how many I have eaten. They’re a high-calorie food, so just enjoy a few as a snack or as a topping, but do enjoy them, because they’re healthy for your heart.
4. Too much cheese
It’s tempting to add lots of cheese to our dishes when restaurant advertisements are everywhere, but keep in mind that the Med diet is meant to limit your consumption of this tasty food. I see cheese on everything these days, in mind-numbing amounts. It’s not necessary to have eight kinds of cheese on a pizza and in the dough too! When you feel your instincts telling you to add more cheese, remind yourself that what you already have added is likely plenty!
5. Too much wine
I am not a big drinker, but I do partake on occasion. Usually, on the big holidays like Christmas and New Year, or special gatherings, I will enjoy a glass of wine. The good news is that the Med diet allows wine consumption, but too much wine is not a good thing. I’d say that a small glass of wine to wash down an evening meal every once in a while is fine. But don’t use the fact that the Med diet allows for it to justify drinking nightly. Like everything, moderation is key. Remember, wine has calories in it too and you can save it for special occasions.
So, once you’ve created a diet that you feel comfortable with, the next step is to examine how much food you consume. I’d suggest making up a plate in the kitchen instead of bringing all the food and fixings to the table. Try setting the table with a napkin, silverware, and a placemat. This can help make your meal more intentional and the extra food just out of reach. Not all calories are created equal, but if you know the serving size that makes sense for your stage in life and balance out the types of food you eat, you can enjoy food without going overboard.
What questions do you have about your diet? I’m happy to answer them. Chat with me on Twitter at @ReyzanShali!