Long touted for its heart-healthy benefits, the Mediterranean diet also has been shown to have a positive effect on your figure. Recent research has demonstrated that the diet made famous by inhabitants of Greece — including the island of Crete, as well as southern Italy and other cultures around the Mediterranean basin — potentially can help banish excess body fat. Here are the key foods and ingredients you can borrow from the region known as the cradle of civilization to reawaken the hidden curves in your figure.
1. Olive oil
The main player in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil’s high monounsaturated fat content makes it a nutritional winner. Various studies have linked a diet rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats with lower cholesterol levels, but more recent evidence suggests it can help control belly fat, especially when lower-quality refined carbohydrates like sweets and white bread are swapped out for monounsaturated fats from olive oil.
Garlic is potent in more than odor — it’s also a potent antimicrobial food, which makes it a great immune system booster. That may not in itself help keep off body fat, but it does mean that it can help keep you healthy so that you’re able to work out regularly and stick to your routine. Store chopped or minced fresh garlic in an airtight container, not a plastic bag, in the fridge, and use it as soon as possible. Store bulbs at room temperature in
a dry place.
3. Leafy greens
The Mediterranean diet includes plenty of dark green vegetables, much revered for their vitamin A and vitamin K content, both of which are important for bone health. And a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014 showed that the nitrite-rich veggies in the
Mediterranean diet help to lower blood pressure. With a skimpy calorie content of less than 10 calories per cup, leafy greens like spinach and kale can help you to feel full without expanding your waistline.
4. Greek yogurt
A protein-rich gem, Greek-style yogurt contains up to 20 grams of protein per ¾ cup serving (by comparison, most other plain yogurts provide only 6 or 7 grams per serving), making it great for building metabolism-boosting lean muscle. Enjoy it as part of a snack, protein shake or with low-fat granola, nuts and berries for breakfast. Just watch out for sneaky sugars, depending on the brand.
5. Whole-grain pasta
Though not a traditional part of the diet of Crete, whole grain pasta is part of the diet of other Mediterranean countries, and whole grains and cereals are an impor-tant part of the Mediterranean diet as a whole. The key is to use grains in moderation. Try making your pasta with tons of fresh veggies to help you feel full without adding too many extra calories, and make sure the pasta you choose is 100 percent whole grain. That way you’ll derive more fiber. Cook it al dente to keep your blood sugar better controlled — cooked that way, it is lower on the glycemic index and thus less likely to spike your blood sugar.
Known as pulses in the Mediterranean diet, the legume family (including beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas) is a sensational choice for so many reasons. Not only are legumes super rich in filling fiber (providing around 6 to 8 grams per ½ cup serving), but they are also a good source of protein (about 8 to 9 grams per serving). So whether it’s hummus and veggies as a snack, lentil soup for lunch or vegetarian chili with kidney beans for dinner, try to include beans in your diet at least half of the days of the week.
7. Sweet potatoes
Despite their mixed reputation, white potatoes do make up an important part of the diet of Crete. And although potatoes with the skin on are actually quite nutritious, why not step it up by choosing sweet potatoes instead? A great carb choice that will help provide energy for your glutes workouts,
sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A, a key immune-system booster. They also have more fiber and less impact on your blood sugar than russets or other white potatoes.
8. Whole fruit
Instead of sweets and baked goods, the Greeks typi-cally eat fresh fruit for dessert. While grapes and figs may be indigenous to the Mediterranean region, enjoy a variety of fruits in your diet — and remember that different colors mean different nutrients, so mix it up. If you’re worried about the sugar content, don’t be: A recent study that followed subjects for five years found that fruit eaters tend to weigh less than those who don’t eat fruit.
9. Red wine
Folks in the Mediterranean region seem to benefit from drinking wine, partly because they use it in moderation (about a glass per day with meals), but also because it serves as a symbol of relaxation and pleasure. How can that benefit clean eaters? Since stress and poor sleep increase levels of the fat-building hormone cortisol, any habits that can help you relax — be it a Sunday after-noon catnap or an occasional glass of wine — may help keep fat (and heart disease) under control.
10. Fish and seafood
As seaside-dwelling people, the Mediterraneans natu-rally include plenty of fresh fish in their diet. The health benefits of fish for our hearts and brains are well established. Their omega-3 fatty acids can potentially boost your metabolism and help improve insulin sensitivity, which can help your body to metabolize carbohydrates more efficiently. Fish is also a great source of muscle building protein.