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Learning to follow the Mediterranean Diet is easy. If you follow a visual pyramid for the diet, the base of the pyramid rests on physical activity, stress management, and enjoying meals with others. The bottom section of the pyramid includes fruits, grains, nuts and seeds, legumes, healthy fats, and colorful Mediterranean Diet vegetables.
Unlike the American Diet, meat is secondary to the Mediterranean Diet. Protein focuses on plant-based protein found in food items like chickpeas and legumes. Eat fish and seafood protein in moderation. Chicken and turkey are eaten twice weekly. Red meat and sweets, are at the very top of the pyramid and eaten less frequently.
If you look at the My Plate way of planning your midday and evening meals, plan on half the plate including leafy greens and low carbohydrate vegetables. One-quarter of the plate reserved for protein and the second quarter for higher complex-carbohydrate vegetables. This is especially important if you are enjoying Mediterranean Diet vegetables and also wanting to lose weight.
Vegetables on the Traditional Mediterranean Diet
Leafy greens include lettuce, dandelion greens, collard, and mustard greens, kale, and spinach. A mix of these greens will make a wonderful, flavorful salad. Choose young tender varieties for the best bite.
Greens can add a variety of flavors from kale's bitterness to arugula's peppery taste and turnip greens spicey palate.
Besides the greens' flavor, these vegetables are full of vitamins and nutrients. Regularly including a variety of leafy greens in your meals will help you meet daily requirements for vitamins A, K, C, D, and many Bs.
Focusing meals on leafy greens promote health and may help manage blood pressure, improve lipid levels, blood sugar levels, as well as may help reduce blood clots and promote strong bones.
For a flavorful salad of leafy greens, grapes, apples, pecans, and feta cheese with a raspberry vinegarette, try my Apple Pecan Salad.
Onions are root vegetables. There are several types of onions common to the Mediterranean Diet.
Bulb onions are the most common cooking onion. They come in yellow, white, red, and sweet varieties. White onions have a milder, sweeter flavor. Red onions can be quite hot and strong. Choose red onions in the Spring and early Summer when their flavor is milder.
Shallots are a combination of onion and garlic. They have an intense garlicky flavor. Small amounts of minced shallots are excellent in salads or sauces. Their flavor mellows with roasting.
Leeks have a milder flavor than bulb onions or shallots but do share the shallots garlicky flavor. Enjoy them roasted, sauteed, or as part of a soup. Cooking leeks results in a milder flavor.
Scallions or green onions are often used as a garnish or in salads. They have a milder flavor than onions, but a spicy taste. Usually not eaten alone but as part of another recipe.
Roots, Tubers, and Bulbs
Root vegetables are often thought of as the eatable parts of plants that grow underground. To get technical, root vegetables may actually be the root of the plant while others are tubers or bulbs that store nutrients and help the plant multiply. 1
These nutrient-dense foods are packed with vitamins and minerals. They are also an excellent source of fiber. They are complex carbohydrates and provide your body with energy. Because they are energy-dense, they should be eaten in moderation on the Mediterranean Diet.
A good rule of thumb for root vegetables is including one 1/2 cup serving per meal.
Eating too many root vegetables just like pasta or bread can derail weight loss efforts. When you take in more nutrients than the body needs it will store that excess energy as fat.
Prepare root vegetables by baking, roasting, sauteing or you can eat them raw. Include small amounts of raw radishes, young turnips, or carrots in salads, or on appetizer platters.
Commons root vegetables include potatoes, turnips, beets, sweet potatoes, carrots, fennel, radishes, celeriac, and rutabaga. Ginger and turmeric are root vegetables even though we often think of them as spices.
Above Ground Vegetables
Above-ground vegetables are usually lower-carbohydrate vegetables. They are typically the eatable flower bud, fruit, or stalk of plants. While some are technically considered fruits, they are generally not what we consider sweet when we think of fruit.
Like other Mediterranean Diet vegetables, they are an excellent source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. These lower-calorie and less carbohydrate-dense vegetables can be enjoyed more frequently and in larger portions of your meals.
Above ground vegetables for Mediterranean Diet include artichokes, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbages in green, red, or white varieties, celery, okra, and eggplant.
Two other common above-ground vegetables you will find in Mediterranean Cooking are peppers and tomatoes. While these vegetables are not indigenous to the Mediterranean, they have been a common staple since they were introduced to Europe by the Spaniards after they explored the Americas.
Vegetables on the Vine
Some above-ground vegetables grow on vining plants. They require room for the vines to spread. For a gardener with limited space, they work well when you train to climb or plant in large containers.
Vining vegetables include Summer squash such as zucchini and yellow-skinned varieties. They are harvested when young and their skin and seeds are still tender.
Winter Squash includes acorn, pumpkin and other hard-skinned forms. They are harvested when mature and their skin and seeds are hardened. Cucumbers, pole beans, and peas are other vining vegetables for the Mediterranean Diet.
Learn more about the Mediterranean Diet, read my post, Mediterranean Diet Basics.
Mediterranean Diet Vegetable Take-Aways
The Mediterranean Diet focuses on plant-based foods. Vegetables provide an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
While vegetables are very healthy, limit root vegetables and squash to 1/2 cup portions. These energy-dense vegetables have more carbohydrates and may impact weight loss if that is your goal on the diet.
Focus on leafy greens and other lower-carbohydrate vegetables. Plan half your plate as leafy greens.
Explore all the vegetables to enjoy on the Mediterranean Diet. Add variety and flavor to your family's meals.
This site contains general information about diet, health, fitness, and nutrition. This information should not be used to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease or condition. Please consult with your physician before using any dietary supplement or before beginning a diet or exercise program.