Like the Jonas Brothers, the Mediterranean diet has made a major comeback, with everyone from your MD to fitness influencers like Kayla Itsines singing its praises. A run-down of some of its major benefits: It’s good for your heart and brain, can help with depression and anxiety, and has special benefits for post-menopausal women. All pretty stellar, right?
One of the major differences between the Med diet and the standard American diet is that fish is typically front and center of most meals. “The Mediterranean diet focuses on a primarily plant-based diet, with various lean protein sources such as chicken, eggs, and dairy, and seafood at least two times per week,” says Eliza Savage, RD. “Fish is a high-protein, low-fat food with many health benefits,” she adds, including being rich in brain-boosting compounds like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins D and B2.
Want to know more about the Mediterranean diet? We’ve got the perfect video for you:
The downside of a focus on seafood: Not everyone is in the same boat with how it tastes, as evinced by this Reddit thread on the subject. Is it even possible to enjoy the Mediterranean diet’s many benefits if you just…hate fish? Savage says yes—but with a few key tweaks.
Mediterranean diet meals are full of amazing vegetables, but Savage says protein is an important element too. If you’re taking out fish, it’s important to replace it with another protein source. “[Instead of beef or red meat] incorporate lean protein sources such as chicken, eggs, legumes, beans, nuts, seeds, and dairy into the meal to keep it compliant with the eating plan,” Savage says.
Chicken can be used in the majority of recipes that call for fish, but there are also plenty of vegetarian Mediterranean diet recipes where legumes are the star. White bean chilis loaded with veggies, lentils and rice, egg-cenric shakshuka, and tomato and goat cheese salads are all examples of how to create a dish full of protein, without using fish.
Besides protein, Savage says it’s important your meal also covers your healthy fats base—otherwise it won’t fully be Mediterranean diet-approved. “Nuts and seeds, avocado, and olive oil are all great sources of healthy fats,” she says. Nuts in particular are a good source of ALAs—a plant-based form of omega-3 fatty acids. Egg yolks are also a good source of omega-3s, along with chia seeds. as are egg yolks.
“When building meals with the Mediterranean diet, be mindful of seeking balance,” Savage says, as her final tip. When building your plate, she recommends aiming for devoting half of it to non-starchy vegetables (such as greens, tomato, and cucumber), a fist-size of whole grains or potatoes, one serving of protein, and one to two servings of healthy fats—no matter if you are or are not eating fish.
Savage also adds that it’s also important to be mindful of the portion sizes, too. “The Mediterranean diet is great because it focuses on real, whole foods. But just because a food is healthy doesn’t mean that more of it will be healthier,” she says.
Here’s the cool thing though: protein and healthy fats are more satiating than the carbs that bulk up our meals Stateside—so a smaller portion really can be more filling. Pretty great how that works out, isn’t it?