A salad and tomatoes are in focus.
Your meals don’t have to be dominated by meats and sweets. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

If you’re looking to eat healthier, but don’t want to give up those deliciously satisfying foods, look no further.

What you want exists—it’s the Mediterranean diet.

The best part of it all: A plethora of research correlates this cuisine with improved health and longevity. A Mediterranean-style diet reduces risk factors for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, and it also fights inflammation and adds antioxidants.

People who eat this kind of diet live longer with less disease.

Take a veggie holiday

Offer a Middle Eastern vegetarian appetizer menu at your holiday events and reap the delicious health benefits. You can buy many of these items at a Middle Eastern deli.

Middle Eastern appetizer menu:

  • Mixed olives
  • Hummus with pita and raw vegetables
  • Babaghannouj (roasted eggplant dip)
  • Fatoush salad (chopped greens, cucumbers and radish, tomato and crisp pita in lemon garlic dressing)
  • Tzaziki dip (yogurt dip with cucumber, olive oil, garlic and mint)
  • Assorted cheese (feta, whole mozzarella balls)
  • Labna (cream cheese spread made from Greek yogurt; sprinkle with chopped nuts and drizzle with honey; serve with pita or crackers)
  • Atvar (spread of roasted eggplant, tomatoes and roasted red peppers; serve with pita, raw veggies or crackers, or use as sandwich spread)
  • Stuffed grape leaves
  • Spiced walnuts and pistachios
  • Strawberries, dried apricots and figs dipped in dark chocolate

The diet limits red meats, placing emphasis on plant-based proteins and nuts, and promoting seafood and chicken along with legumes, veggies, high-antioxidant fruits and whole grains.

The result is a lower-glycemic diet, which can help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity and the function of cells in the pancreas, which helps to improve blood sugar control.

Olive oil replaces butter in Mediterranean recipes, and delicious herbs and spices make it easier to reduce salt.

In my series Eating the Mediterranean Way, participants have reported significant reductions in blood sugar with minimal weight loss. Because the cuisine emphasizes good fats instead of low fat, it’s better for weight loss than a low-fat diet.

The Mediterranean diet is more satisfying because people feel less deprived by their meals—they’re getting essential nutrition in a delicious way. They also report reduced cravings for sugar, which makes weight loss easier.

An important thing to keep in mind: Lifestyle is just as important as food.

People from Mediterranean countries enjoy and savor their food, turning every meal into an excuse for a social occasion with family and friends. A little red wine may be part of the menu, too.