Losing weight is no easy feat. And when you add in the hundreds of different weight loss plans on the market, deciding which diet to try can be tricky. Fortunately, the US News and World Report Best Diet Rankings takes the guesswork out of choosing a diet plan. This year, the Mediterranean diet tops the list of the best overall diets for 2019.
If you’re ready to give the number one diet plan a try, but you’re not sure what you need to know, we’ve got you covered. INSIDER asked the experts for insight on what you need to know before starting the Mediterranean diet.
This is not a traditional diet
Say goodbye to rigid rules and boring meals.
“The Mediterranean diet is a real food approach to eating and drinking,”Sophia Malek, MSN, a culinary nutritionist at Bob’s Red Mill, told INSIDER.
Touted as more of a lifestyle rather than a diet, she said the Mediterranean diet encourages eating with family, savoring your food, and enjoying a glass of wine here and there (if you wish it).
The Mediterranean diet is backed by substantial research
Registered dietician, Amanda Kostro Miller, LDN, who serves on the advisory board for Family Living Today, told INSIDER that the diet is backed by substantial research in regards to overall wellness promotion and disease prevention.
This diet shows promising benefits of improved cognition, reduced cancer risk, improved cardiovascular health, improved labs (i.e., HDL and LDL cholesterol), reduction in diabetes risk, and a longer life span.
You may want to consider a slow start
Neurologist Ayesha Sherzai, MD, and her husband Dean Sherzai, MD, told INSIDER that a slow start might be the way to go for some people.
“We have sometimes found it to be helpful for individuals with complaints of bloating due to a quick and dramatic change to a whole foods, plant-based diet, to, first of all, start slowly,” they explained.
Consider gradually adding plant foods to your diet while cutting out meats, sweets, fast foods, and sugary drinks.
You will eat a lot of fruits and vegetables
The bulk of your meals will include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Feel free to feast on veggies such as artichoke, asparagus, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, carrots, tomatoes, eggplant, cucumber, onion, green and wax beans, zucchini, turnips, peppers, salad greens, and mushrooms.
You can also snack on fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.
Healthy fats are a big part of your daily diet
If you’ve been programmed to think fat is the enemy, you’re not alone. While you should avoid saturated and trans fats, there are other sources of fat your body needs to maintain optimal health.
“On the Mediterranean diet, fat comes from unsaturated sources like nuts, seeds, and oils,” registered dietician Rachel Fine told INSIDER. Olive oil is a staple on the Mediterranean plan.
The fat in olive oil, monounsaturated fat, is known for various health benefits including playing a role in reducing LDL cholesterol levels.
Nuts, seeds, and legumes are a staple of the Mediterranean diet
Almonds, pistachios, and tahini (toasted sesame seed paste) are just a few of the nuts you can expect to enjoy on this diet. Malek said that nuts and seeds offer protein, heart-healthy fats, and vitamins and nutrients that nourish your body.
“You can find legumes featured as a protein and fiber source in many Mediterranean dishes,” she explained. Think garlicky white beans smashed on whole wheat sourdough bread with fresh oregano, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar or a barley and garbanzo bean soup.
She said you can enjoy lentils, garbanzo beans, white beans, fava beans, and many more on this heart-healthy diet.
Whole grains are part of the package
Unlike other popular diet plans that exclude whole grains, the Mediterranean diet gives you the green light to eat plenty of healthy whole grains such as bulgur, barley, farro, and freekeh.
Malek said a Mediterranean favorite is farro, which is a whole wheat that is semi-pearled, which you might find as a salad served alongside fish or as a main course.
Lean protein will round out your meals
Seafood lovers, get ready to practice your culinary skills on the Mediterranean diet because you get to eat fish and seafood at least twice a week. Other protein sources such as cheese, chicken, eggs, and yogurt are also ok, but in moderation. And red meat should only make an occasional appearance at the dinner table. Lean proteins can also come from plant-based sources (i.e., quinoa, faro, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds).
Fine said that choosing such options can promote additional benefits like weight management.
There are some foods you’re encouraged to avoid
With the Mediterranean diet, you have the freedom to eat from all food groups. However, there are some foods you’re encouraged to avoid including refined sugar, refined grains, trans fats, refined oils, processed meats, and highly processed foods.
It might not cost you a ton of money
A daily dose of fish, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats may seem like it’s going to cost you a pretty penny, but the reality is, the money you’ll spend on the Mediterranean diet is not a whole lot more than the processed items you buy at the store.
When you’re at the grocery store, Kostro Miller said to hit the produce section first and try to plan your meals around what produce is in season and available.
“Make the fruits and vegetables the highlight of the meal, then go to the deli for your lean protein sources such as fresh fish,” she added.