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Health & Fit I followed the Mediterranean diet for a week, and I get why it's so popular

22:15  14 january  2020
22:15  14 january  2020 Source:   msn.com

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a person holding a plate of food© Stephanie Ashe
  • For seven days I followed the Mediterranean diet to the best of my ability.
  • I focused on eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein.
  • The diet wasn't very hard to follow, but it was pretty vague since it's more of an eating plan than something filled with strict guidelines.
  • I enjoyed the freedom the Mediterranean diet gave me, but it also made it hard for me to figure out what I should and shouldn't be eating.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

When nutritionists rank popular diets, the Mediterranean diet often comes out at or near the top.

And it's no surprise why - its well-touted health benefits include everything from improved memory function to a longer life. Plus, this eating plan of sorts is known for its long-term sustainability, which more restrictive diets don't tend to have.

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The Mediterranean diet doesn't explicitly exclude any food group, it just encourages better choices within each one (like replacing red meat with salmon and replacing butter with olive oil).

The diet includes things like a focus on foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts; olive oil, rather than other oils or butter; red wine in moderation; and meat and dairy in moderation.

As a pescatarian who eats mostly vegetarian, this is one of the few diets I feel I could actually follow. Paleo, Whole30, Atkins, and keto diets focus too heavily on meat for me, but this one seemed easier.

Here's how the week went.

Day one: I cheated already

a bowl of food on a plate© Stephanie Ashe

First off, I knew my challenge would be getting enough of everything. Recommendations are about six to seven servings of fruits and vegetables and five to six servings of whole grains each day.

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I love fruits and vegetables, but that is a lot of servings. I also eat mostly gluten/grain-free, so I was going to have to make a point of incorporating more grains to make this work.

With that in mind, my day started out fine.

For breakfast, I had oatmeal with flax and chia seeds, and an apple with coconut peanut butter. Aside from the addition of the apple, this was fairly similar to the oatmeal I would normally eat.

I was out running errands at lunchtime, so I stopped into Jason's Deli for the salad bar. I shied away from all the things on the bar I would normally get - pasta salad, croutons, avocado ranch dressing - since I wasn't sure about the ingredients. Instead, I had a colorful salad of veggies, beans, and a hard-boiled egg.

a white plate topped with meat and vegetables© Stephanie Ashe

For dinner, I made zucchini noodles with mushrooms, onions, and tomato sauce. Since there wasn't any protein, and I don't particularly like seafood with my pasta, I cooked up some faux meat crumbles.

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These are definitely not a "whole food" and therefore probably not allowed on the diet, but I had to break the rules just this once.

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Day 2: Following the diet while dining out was harder than I thought

a pan of food on a stove© Stephanie Ashe

For breakfast, I had cereal with chia and flax seeds, shredded coconut, and almond milk. After breakfast, my day was full of the usual Sunday errands and then some, so I didn't get to prepare any food the rest of the day.

My fiancé wanted to go to a barbecue place near our house, and I didn't want to ruin his lunch with my diet, so we went. This was my biggest test so far (and probably all week). Normally, at that restaurant, I get a five-cheese grilled cheese on Texas toast and fries, but that wasn't going to work this week.

Instead, I chose a salmon salad that included quinoa, chickpeas, and lots of veggies. It was tasty, but I started hating the diet for taking my grilled cheese from me.

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We finished the day late, and I didn't feel like cooking so we ran by the grocery store and grabbed a bunch of stuff from the deli. I chose a chickpea and tomato salad, quinoa, and riced cauliflower.

I think I did OK given the circumstances, but I didn't get nearly enough fruit.

Day 3: I spent all my time in the kitchen

a bowl of food on a table© Stephanie Ashe

I made an egg and vegetable scramble for breakfast that I paired with a banana. I cooked some extra vegetables to go with some whole-grain pasta I was making for lunch. Cooking both meals simultaneously meant I had to get up earlier than normal, and I was not happy about it.

As a mid-morning snack, I had an apple and a Mamma Chia pudding.

Dinner was a shrimp fajita bowl with whole-grain rice, pinto beans, avocado, and salsa.

Day 4: I stopped trying to prepare intricate dishes

a bowl of food on a table© Stephanie Ashe

I was already tired of cooking every meal, which I know I didn't technically have to do, but I felt like if I cooked meals I was more able to control the ingredients and amount of whole foods in each one.

For breakfast, I again had cereal with chia and flax seeds, shredded coconut, and almond milk. Since I was too lazy to prepare anything else my lunch was leftover pinto beans, rice, peppers, and onions from dinner the night before.

a plate of food on a table© Stephanie Ashe

I was still feeling tired and lazy when I got home from work, so I threw a bunch of stuff in the oven and called it a night. I had roasted chickpeas with balsamic brussels sprouts and zucchini.

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It was actually one of the best things I'd made all week and took practically no effort.

Day 5: I started getting bored with the foods

a bowl of food on a plate© Stephanie Ashe

I had eggs and kale with a banana and coconut butter for breakfast. Even though it was a decent amount of food and protein, I was still starving pretty early in the day. I ate another Mamma Chia pudding and pushed through.

For lunch, I had leftover chickpeas, along with some rice and asparagus I hastily cooked that morning.

As I usually do, I had bought way too many vegetables at the store that week, so this night was a "clean out the refrigerator" kind of night.

I hate wasting food, so I basically cooked all the vegetables I had. This amounted to garlic-roasted swordfish steaks, the rest of the rice from lunch, roasted asparagus, with sautéed peppers, onions, and baby kale.

It was so good that I was nearly finished before I remembered I should have taken a picture.

Day 6: I'm not sure if I broke the rules or not

a close up of food© Stephanie Ashe

I went back to my quick breakfast of cereal with chia and flax seeds, and almond milk. I left out the coconut this time since having it in the milk started grossing me out. I also had a banana and coconut butter.

I was really rushed this morning, so I grabbed an Amy's microwavable meal from the freezer for lunch.

I looked over the ingredients and thought they looked OK, but that's actually one of the issues with the Mediterranean diet - there aren't super defined rules, so you're kind of on your own to figure out what is "allowed."

For dinner, I made one of my go-tos - a Mexican casserole. I used black beans, whole-grain rice, corn, tomatoes, and avocado. This is one of my favorite recipes, and I was so glad I was able to use it on this diet.

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It also makes enough for leftovers, so I planned to have them for lunch the next day.

Day 7: I decided this 'diet' wasn't so bad after all

  I followed the Mediterranean diet for a week, and I get why it's so popular © Stephanie Ashe

I finished the week with a breakfast of yogurt, seeds, almonds, and a banana. My lunch was leftover Mexican casserole from the night before.

For dinner, I celebrated by giving myself a break from cooking. I grabbed a French Quarter Bowl from a Grabbagreen, an organic/whole foods restaurant nearby. It had shrimp, quinoa, onion, tomato, and avocado - and it really hit the spot.

As my final act on the Mediterranean diet, I had a delicious glass of red wine.

Overall, I don't feel drastically different, but that's likely because my diet wasn't drastically changed

The Mediterranean diet felt, to me, more like a basic guide for healthy eating - which is exactly what it claims to be.

Because of that, I think it's something I'll actually be able to follow moving forward, with some treats added in here and there. The lack of formal structure was actually a problem for me, though. There were too many things up for interpretation.

What exactly is eating dairy in moderation? Once a week? Once a day? Without knowing, I just avoided it altogether for the most part.

It's a complicated verdict - I wish there were a few more rules, but I also think the best part about the Mediterranean diet is that there aren't many strict ones.

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