By Sheela Prakash
At its most basic, the Mediterranean diet is one that’s full of colorful fruits and vegetables. That’s just the beginning though. Keep your pantry stocked with these seven items (along with plenty of produce, of course) and you’ll immediately be on your way towards feel-good eating that puts the priority on good for you fats and loads of vegetables.
1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
You can’t talk about the Mediterranean Diet without making olive oil the heart of the conversation. The oil is an integral part of the diet, so definitely find a home for it in your pantry. Olive oil is a rich source of healthy monounsaturated fats, which can help lower cholesterol levels and improve overall heart health. Reach for extra virgin, if you can, which is the highest grade of olive oil and has both the richest flavor and most health benefits. Use it in place of canola and other types of vegetable oil as well as butter to sauté, roast, and even bake with.
2. Whole Grains
Whole grains are another major component of the diet. These grains haven’t been refined and stripped of their nutrients so they still retain all their vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy fiber. Good choices include brown rice, farro, bulger, quinoa, rolled and steel-cut oats, and barely, as well as whole wheat pasta.
3. Canned Fish
It’s recommended to consume fish at least once or twice a week on the Mediterranean Diet, particularly fish that’s a rich source of healthy fats, like salmon. While salmon is a crowd-pleaser, bringing it to the table a couple of times a week can put a dent in your wallet. That’s why it’s worth exploring the world of canned fish. Canned sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and trout are affordable choices that are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain and heart health. Try them on salad, on toast, in a sandwich, or flaked into pasta.
4. Beans and Lentils
In addition to fish, beans and lentils are another important source of protein in the Mediterranean Diet. Whether you stock your pantry with dried beans and lentils and cook them yourself of keep a handful of cans handy, you’ll reap the benefits. They’re an inexpensive source of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Try adding them to roasted vegetables or salad, stirring them into soup, or piling them on top of cooked whole grains to make a hearty meal.
5. Whole-Milk Greek Yogurt
Dairy is one more component of the Mediterranean Diet, and contrary to what you might think, full-fat dairy is recommended rather than low-fat or fat-free. This is because full-fat dairy is less processed, easier to digest, and all of its nutrients are retained. Whole-milk Greek yogurt is a great thing to keep on hand because it’s also protein-rich. Not only is it a feel-good breakfast choice, it can be used as a substitute for mayonnaise in dressings and dips and for heavy cream in sauces and desserts.
Nuts are another healthy fat that you should learn to love. In particular, almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and hazelnuts show up all over the Mediterranean Diet. They contribute good fat, protein, and fiber to anything. Toast them to boost their natural flavor and enjoy them out of hand as a snack or sprinkle them on yogurt, oatmeal, salads, and soups to add crunch.
While you don’t need lemons in your kitchen to eat a Mediterranean Diet, they definitely make it easier. Keep a couple on your counter or in your crisper draw and you have instant flavor within an arm’s reach. A squeeze of lemon juice over baked fish or chicken brightens and seasons it without having you lean too much on the salt shaker. The juice can be combined with olive oil to make a simple vinaigrette for salad greens and the zest can be stirred into cooked whole grains, sauces, and soups to add zip.