The Mediterranean Diet

Tips and Tricks for Summer Success

About the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet incorporates characteristics traditional to the cooking style and flavorings of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olives, and features fish, poultry and olive oil over red meat, butter and saturated fats. Many of the staple ingredients found in Mediterranean dishes are seasonal to the warmer months, which makes it a perfect, healthy diet plan for the summer. In addition to its many benefits, a Mediterranean diet also provides a variety of recipe options to keep meals fresh and delicious. 

Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
Fights heart disease — Research has shown that a traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. The diet has also been associated with a lower level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol that’s more likely to build up in arteries – and a reduced risk of cardiovascular complications.

Fights cancer - The Mediterranean diet is filled with fruits and vegetables, which offer vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals to fight free radicals (which cause cancer and aging) in the body. Research shows that women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer.

More health benefits – Following a Mediterranean-style eating pattern can support weight loss goals, help better control blood sugars and lessen the risk of depression. It also helps reduce inflammation, which is a risk factor in heart attack, stroke, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

Strategies for Success
Boost fruits and veggies. Include them at every meal and snack. Take a family favorite and add more produce to it, whether it is adding fruit to oatmeal or cereal, or more veggies in soups, sauces and casseroles. For June, think watermelon, nectarines, zucchini and eggplant. 

Switch to olive oil and other heart healthy oils. Use canola oil for cooking and extra-virgin olive oil for salad dressings as an alternative for butter. The smoke point for olive oil is lower, so foods may burn easily when cooking or baking with olive oil. Oils are high in fat. Olive oil has about 124 calories in a tablespoon, so be conscience of portion size. 

Include more seafood and less meat. The Mediterranean countries are all bordered by water, which is why seafood is a significant part of the area’s traditional diet. At home, choose fish and seafood that is available and in-season. The goal is to include fish and seafood at least 2-3 times per week. Salmon, mackerel, halibut and sardines are all lean, heart healthy options.

Leave room for legumes, nuts and seeds every day. Another great way to get protein is through plant-based proteins like legumes and beans. Try some Mediterranean favorites such as chickpeas, cannelloni beans, lentils and fava beans. Just a handful of nuts and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, can add flavor, a satisfying crunch, and wholesome fats to any diet. 

Turn to whole grains. Feature healthful, whole grains in everyday meals such as brown rice, wheat berries, farro or quinoa. These grains can offer fiber and probiotics for a healthy gastrointestinal tract.

Spice it up! Use fresh or dried spices and herbs instead of salt to add pizzazz to food. Also, try seasoning food with citrus juice or zest to develop great layers of flavor. Other Mediterranean spices include fennel seeds, herbes de Provence (a French seasoning blend that includes marjoram, thyme, rosemary, and fennel), oregano and nutmeg.

Grace Derocha is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more health tips, visit


Greek Grilled Shrimp Rice Salad

Grilled Shrimp
2 lbs. cleaned, deveined and peeled shrimp – raw
¼ tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tbsp. grated lemon peel
1 tbsp. oregano
1 clove of garlic, minced

3 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp oregano

2 Zucchinis
Red or yellow bell pepper (2 total)
1 Red onion
1 cup Kalamata olives, pitted

Put shrimp and marinade in large bowl to marinate for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator.
While the shrimp marinates, cook wild rice pilaf and set aside.
Also, chop salad vegetables into 1-inch pieces. Grill or pan grill using olive oil. Set aside. 

Once shrimp has marinated, grill shrimp. If using a grill, thread shrimp on metal skewers or well-soaked bamboo skewers and grill for 5-6 minutes, turning often until shrimp turns pink and opaque. If cooking via grill pan, you do not have to use skewers. Cook in pan for about 6 minutes, again until pink and opaque.

Serve shrimp and vegetables on top of wild rice pilaf. Lightly drizzle dressing on top and optional to serve with a side of tzatziki or hummus. Enjoy!