The Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant-based eating, focusing on foods like colorful veggies, whole grains, heart-healthy fats like olive oil, omega-3 rich seafood, nuts and moderate amounts of lean meat. Studies show the diet’s health benefits include better heart health, brain health and improved longevity, which is why it consistently tops the US News & World Report’s ranking of the best diets.
It’s also easy to modify the diet to include a variety of healthy staples from different cuisines and adapt to a low-carb diet.
Carbs are an essential macronutrient the body relies on for energy and daily functions. The key to a low-carb diet is ensuring you consume quality carbs, which means opting for the least processed versions. Here are a few tips for cutting back on carbs:
While certainly healthy and OK in moderation, pasta is a more concentrated source of carbohydrates. Pasta is a key player in the Mediterranean diet, promoted as an ideal partner for healthy vegetables, nuts, herbs and olive oil. For a low-carb variation, choose one of the plant-based noodle alternatives such as those made from butternut squash, zucchini, beet, turnips or spaghetti squash. A cup of spaghetti squash has 7 grams of carbohydrates versus 31 grams found in a semolina flour-based pasta counterpart.
Beans and legumes are a great source of plant-based protein and an excellent source of fiber in the Mediterranean diet, but they’re also high in carbohydrates. Enjoy beans on a low-carb diet in small amounts and look to obtain more fiber from other lower-carbohydrate plant sources like berries, chia seeds, avocados and green beans.
Choose berries and citrus sources to add a bright punch of flavor, nutrients and antioxidants to meals while keeping carbohydrate counts lower.
Vegetables fall all over the spectrum when it comes to carbohydrate count, so as a general guidance tool, think of it like this: most vegetables grown underground (such as potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips and parsnips) have more carbohydrates than those grown above ground.
Leafy greens, eggplant, peppers, mushrooms, squash and cruciferous veggies, like broccoli and cauliflower, are lower in carbs but still high in filling protein and rich in nutrients and antioxidants. Cauliflower and zucchini-based dishes offer great alternatives to traditionally high-carbohydrate meals, such as pizza dough, rice, grits and even pie crusts. Fill your plate with these first, then add protein.
While the Mediterranean diet heavily favors seafood (naturally low in carbs), you can opt for lean land-based animal proteins, such as chicken breast, pork (tenderloin and chops) and turkey. Don’t forget about plant-based protein sources, too. For example, a dollop of hummus offers protein and fiber (and only 4g carbohydrates per serving), and it makes a great dipper for healthy, low-carb vegetables or a tasty, creative coating for lean chicken breast. Omelets and frittatas filled with vegetables are also great options for breakfast, lunch or even dinner on a low-carb Mediterranean diet.
Dairy contains lactose, a sugar found naturally in milk. It is typically only consumed several times a week on a classic Mediterranean diet. Instead, there’s an emphasis on consuming fermented dairy in moderation, like yogurt and cultured cheeses, which are lower in carbs. They also tend to have a strong flavor: think cheeses like feta and Parmesan. Because they pack such a powerful punch, you can add them in smaller quantities to your favorite meals. In particular, Greek yogurt (of Mediterranean tradition) is a smart option because it’s strained of whey and tends to be lower in carbs and higher in protein compared to traditional yogurt.
The Mediterranean diet is highly responsible for shifting our mindset away from the low-fat trend, helping us understand what heart-healthy fats are, why they are so good for us and how to tastefully add them to our diet. Rich in olive and other plant-based oils, nuts, fatty fish, avocados and eggs — the Mediterranean diet has never been one to skimp on healthy fats. For years, the diet has shown lower mortality rates, despite its higher-fat profile.
Fats have zero carbohydrates and are heavily weighted in a low-carb diet. Most other high-fat/low-carb diets (such as keto and Atkins) often don’t differentiate which type of fat to prioritize and lean heavily on animal meats, cheese and butter — which are all high in unhealthy saturated fats. The Mediterranean diet favors olive oil over butter and emphasizes other mono and polyunsaturated fats associated with plant-based oils as well as nuts, avocados and fatty omega-3-rich fish, such as salmon, sardines and tuna. In other words, it’s a good idea to stick with the Mediterranean diet’s healthy fats when going low-carb.
Rich in antioxidants, wine is the alcoholic beverage of choice supported by the Mediterranean diet. It’s also a decent choice for a low-carb lifestyle, with about 4–5 grams of carbs per 5-ounce pour. That’s about 1/3 of the amount you’ll find in a higher alcohol IPA, which hovers around 15 grams per can (and more in a pint). Vodka, gin and whiskey have zero carbs but are often mixed with tonics, sodas and simple syrups that are all sweetened with sugar (aka carbs).
Still, since alcohol can interfere with sleep and disrupt rational decision-making (and lead you to munch on whatever’s around and overeat), it’s best to limit alcohol as much as possible — especially if your goal is weight loss.
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