Discover the Delicious and Nutritious Mediterranean Diet: A Foodie's Guide to Gourmet Spices and Exotic Flavors - THE SPICE & TEA SHOPPE

Discover the Delicious and Nutritious Mediterranean Diet: A Foodie's Guide to Gourmet Spices and Exotic Flavors

Let's talk about the Mediterranean diet. You might have heard about it before, but what exactly is it?

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that is based on the traditional foods and cooking styles of countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. People typically think of Italy, Greece, Spain, and Turkey. But let's not forget Egypt, France, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia to name just a few as they all are part of the Mediterranean region as well and they contribute bold and delicious flavors to this way of living. It is important to note that although it's referred to as the Mediterranean diet, it's not a diet in the typical sense of the word, but a lifestyle that has been linked to numerous health benefits.

 

So, what does the Mediterranean diet entail? Let's break it down.

 

The Mediterranean diet is rich in plant-based foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes are staples of this way of eating. These foods are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which are important for good health. In addition to plant-based foods, the Mediterranean diet includes moderate amounts of fish and seafood, poultry, eggs, and dairy products. Red meat is limited in this diet, and when it is consumed, it is typically in smaller portions. Another key aspect of the Mediterranean diet is the use of healthy fats. Olive oil is a primary source of fat in this way of eating, but other sources of healthy fats include nuts, seeds, and fatty fish like salmon. These fats are important for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of heart disease.

 

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

 

Spices are an essential part of the Mediterranean diet, and for good reason!

 

View our Mediterranean Diet Essentials Here

 

The Mediterranean diet is known for its liberal use of a variety of herbs and spices to add depth and complexity to dishes and flavor to food without adding excess salt or sugar. 

 

Here are some of the most popular spices used in Mediterranean cuisine: 

 

  •  Oregano: This herb is a staple in Greek and Italian cooking and is commonly used to flavor meats, vegetables, pasta dishes and tomato-based sauces. 
  • Rosemary: A popular herb in Italian and Spanish cuisine, rosemary adds a fragrant, pine-like flavor to roasted meats, vegetables, and bread. 
  • Thyme: This herb is commonly used in French and Mediterranean cooking to add flavor to soups, stews, and roasted meats.
  • Cumin: Widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine, cumin adds a warm, earthy flavor to meats, vegetables, and rice dishes.
  • Paprika: A staple in Spanish cuisine, paprika adds a smoky, sweet flavor to meat and vegetable dishes. 
  • Garlic: Garlic is a staple ingredient in many Mediterranean dishes, and for good reason. It adds delicious flavor to everything from pasta sauces to roasted vegetables.
  • Turmeric: Turmeric is a bright yellow spice that is commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. It contains a powerful antioxidant called curcumin, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects and may help to protect against certain types of cancer. 
  • Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a sweet and warming spice that is often used in desserts, but it can also be added to savory dishes like roasted meats and stews. Some research shows it may help regulate blood sugar levels and may help to lower cholesterol.  

 

Exotic Flavors of the Mediterranean: 

In addition to gourmet spices, the Mediterranean diet also features a range of exotic flavors that add depth and complexity to dishes.

 

Here are just four popular exotic flavors used in Mediterranean cuisine:

  •  Za'atar: This Middle Eastern spice blend is made from a mixture of dried herbs, sesame seeds, and sumac, and is commonly used to flavor meats, vegetables, and dips. 
  • Harissa: A fiery North African spice, harissa adds a spicy kick to dishes and is commonly used in stews, soups, and sauces. 
  • Ras el Hanout: This Moroccan spice blend contains a complex mixture of up to 30 different spices and is commonly used to flavor tagines, couscous, and grilled meats. 
  • Sumac: A tangy, lemony spice commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine, and, for good reason!

 

What are the benefits of following the Mediterranean diet? Let's look.

 

Reduced Risk of Heart Disease:

Studies have found that following the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of heart disease. This is likely due to the diet's emphasis on plant-based foods, healthy fats, and limited consumption of red meat. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol levels (the "bad" cholesterol), reduce inflammation, and improve blood vessel function, all of which are important for heart health.

 

Improved Brain Function:

The Mediterranean diet has also been linked to improved brain function. A study published in the journal Neurology found that older adults who followed the Mediterranean diet had better cognitive function and a lower risk of cognitive decline. Other studies have suggested that the diet may help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.

 

Lower Risk of Cancer : 

Research has suggested that the Mediterranean diet may help to lower the risk of certain types of cancer, including breast cancer and colorectal cancer. This may be due to the diet's emphasis on plant-based foods, which are rich in antioxidants and other cancer-fighting compounds.

 

Weight Loss and Weight Management:

The Mediterranean diet is not a weight loss diet per se, but it has been shown to be effective for weight loss and weight management. This is likely due to the diet's emphasis on whole, nutrient-dense foods and its moderate approach to fat and protein intake. Additionally, the Mediterranean diet promotes mindful eating habits, which can help to reduce overeating and improve satiety.

 

Improved Digestive Health:

The Mediterranean diet is high in fiber, which is important for digestive health. Fiber helps to promote regular bowel movements, reduce constipation, and maintain healthy gut bacteria. Additionally, the diet's emphasis on whole, nutrient-dense foods can help to reduce inflammation in the gut, which can contribute to digestive issues.

 

Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes:

The Mediterranean diet may also help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, both of which are important for preventing type 2 diabetes. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 52% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who followed a low-fat diet.

 

Improved Mood and Mental Health:

The Mediterranean diet may also have benefits for mental health. A study published in the journal BMC Medicine found that people who followed the Mediterranean diet had lower levels of depression and anxiety compared to those who followed a less healthy diet. The diet's emphasis on whole, nutrient-dense foods and healthy fats may help to support brain function and reduce inflammation, both of which can contribute to improved mood and mental health. 

 

Longer Lifespan:

Research suggests that following the Mediterranean diet may help to promote longevity. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that people who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 20% lower risk of death over a 10-year period compared to those who did not follow the diet. This may be due to the diet's numerous health benefits, including its positive effects on heart health, brain function, and cancer risk.

The Mediterranean diet promotes mindful eating habits. Meals are typically enjoyed with family and friends, and the focus is on savoring the flavors and textures of the food, rather than rushing through a meal. This approach to eating can help to reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

 

Friends around the table enjoying a meal

Now, let's look at some examples of meals that fit within the Mediterranean diet.

 

Breakfast:

  • Oatmeal topped with chopped nuts, fresh berries, and a drizzle of honey.
  • Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and a sprinkle of granola.
  • Whole grain toast topped with avocado and a poached or fried egg.

 Lunch:

  • Salad with mixed greens, grilled chicken, roasted vegetables, and a balsamic vinaigrette.
  • Whole grain pita stuffed with hummus, cucumber, tomato, and feta cheese.
  • Grilled fish with a side of steamed vegetables and a whole grain roll.

Dinner:

  • Salad made with a variety of greens and grilled vegetables and whole grains.
  • Spaghetti with tomato sauce, garlic, and olive oil, served with a side salad.
  • Baked salmon with roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli.
  • Grilled chicken with lemon and herbs, served with a side of quinoa and mixed vegetables.

Snacks:

  • Apple slices with almond butter.
  • Carrots and celery sticks with hummus.
  • Greek yogurt with mixed berries and a drizzle of honey.

Desserts on Occasion:

  • Fruit sorbets made with seasonal fruits and natural sweetener such as honey.
  • Pastries made with whole wheat flour, sweetened with honey, and filled with fruits or nuts such as baklava or kataifi.
  • Puddings made with semolina or chia, flavored with natural ingredients like vanilla or cinnamon and sweetened with honey.
  • Olive oil cake made with whole wheat flour and sweetened with honey.
  • Chocolate desserts made with dark chocolate and sweetened with natural sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup.


If you're looking to follow the Mediterranean diet, there are a few types of foods you'll want to steer clear of.

 

First off, try to avoid processed and packaged foods as much as possible. These often contain high levels of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats that can throw off the balance of the diet. Instead, aim for fresh, whole foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins.  

Another thing to limit is red meat. While it's not completely off-limits, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating fish and poultry instead. So, if you do choose to eat red meat, try to keep it to a minimum and opt for lean cuts.

Lastly, try to limit your intake of sweets and desserts. The Mediterranean diet is all about balance, so it's okay to indulge in moderation. But too much sugar can undo all the good you're doing by eating healthy, nutrient-dense foods.

Overall, just remember to focus on fresh, whole foods and keep the processed stuff to a minimum.

And don't forget to enjoy your meals and savor the flavors of the Mediterranean!

In summary, if you're looking for a healthy and delicious way of eating, the Mediterranean diet may be worth considering! 

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that is based on the traditional foods and cooking styles of countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It is rich in plant-based foods, healthy fats, and moderate amounts of fish, poultry, eggs, and some dairy products.

Following the Mediterranean diet has been linked to numerous health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, improved brain function, lower risk of cancer, weight loss and weight management, improved digestive health, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, improved mood and mental health, and a longer lifespan.

 

Studies support Mediterranean Diet as a healthy lifestyle choice:

  • The PREDIMED study, which was a large randomized controlled trial that showed that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from heart disease by 30% and reduces the risk of breast cancer in postmenopausal women. 
  • The Moli-sani study, which is one of the largest observational studies on the Mediterranean diet, found that people who adhered to this diet had a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and death from all causes.
  • The Nurse's Health Study, which followed more than 200,000 women for over 20 years, found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and death from all causes.
  • The Greek EPIC study, which followed over 23,000 adults for an average of 9.5 years, found that those who followed a Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and death from all causes.

Mediterranean Diet Essentials

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