Diets Reviewed: Mediterranean Diet
Low Carb Mediterranean Diet Plan
Curious about the Mediterranean diet? Learn why this diet is linked to greater health and longevity and how you can apply its principles to your low carb or ketogenic lifestyle.
Over the last three decades, the Mediterranean diet has become one of the most popular eating plans among health-conscious consumers and scientific researchers. Its appeal goes beyond notions of enjoying fresh olives, feta cheese and a glass of red wine overlooking the Mediterranean Sea; this diet and lifestyle approach has also been linked to a lower risk of coronary heart disease and fewer premature deaths in Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain. In this article, we dive into the reasons for these observed health benefits and how you can apply Mediterranean diet principles into your low carb or ketogenic lifestyle. We also include a list of approved low carb Mediterranean foods, recipe and meal ideas, and other suggestions for living like some of the healthiest communities in the world!
Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to replace personalized medical advice. A low carb diet may not be suitable for you. Consult your health care provider before making any changes to your lifestyle or use this information at your own risk.
What is The Mediterranean Diet?
Based on the lifestyles of those living in the countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea, the Mediterranean diet covers not only a way of eating and drinking, but also a way of living. We will get into more of the lifestyle aspects of this diet later in this article, but for starters let’s take a look at the eating habits of these communities.
The Mediterranean diet is mainly plant-based, with a focus on consuming high amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains and lean protein sources every day. It also limits things like poultry, eggs and red meat, and encourages moderate amounts of things like fish and dairy.
Now the burning question for keto dieters – what about fats? The Mediterranean diet is rich in monounsaturated fats, mainly coming from plant-based sources such as olives, nuts and avocados, but also from fatty fish. Very few animal fats are consumed on this diet, as they contain higher amounts of saturated and trans fats, which have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease. Check out our article on the different types of fats for more information.
It is worth noting that Mediterranean diets comprise the eating habits of people from various regions in Europe, Asia and Northern Africa. However, “the Mediterranean diet” was publicized in the 1970s by American bio-chemist team, Ancel and Margaret Keys, who consolidated it to appeal to a Western market. There is endless inspiration to draw from cultures spanning from France to Morocco to the Middle East when considering Mediterranean diet principles!
Can The Mediterranean Diet be Low Carb or Keto?
There are aspects of the Mediterranean diet that certainly comply with low carb and ketogenic diets. For example, fatty fish, olives and olive oil, and avocados are all low in net carb and high in fats. However, the Mediterranean diet also typically includes a lot of high carb foods as well, such as fruits, whole grains and legumes. These should be limited or eliminated to achieve ideal keto or low carb macronutrient ratios. You may also have to add certain foods, such as eggs, grass-fed butter, and coconut oil, that are not part of the Mediterranean diet in order to achieve your desired macronutrient ratios, especially if you follow a strict ketogenic diet.
Can You Get Enough Fat on The Mediterranean Diet?
A common concern for keto dieters interested in the Mediterranean diet is being able to obtain 75%+ of their calories from fat in order to stay in ketosis. After eliminating whole grains and fruits, it may seem like there aren’t many keto-friendly foods left to choose from in the Mediterranean diet. Plus, even the fattier foods like avocados and olives contain carbohydrates and fish can be high in protein, throwing off desired macronutrient levels. So, when it comes to strict diets such as the ketogenic diet, you may not be able to follow the Mediterranean diet to a “T”. That said, by keeping track of your macronutrient levels and incorporating other foods that will allow you to get enough dietary fat, you can mesh the Mediterranean diet with your low carb lifestyle.
The benefit of trying a Mediterranean-style low carb diet is more variety in your food choices. Many people can get stuck in a bacon and butter rut when following a low carb or ketogenic diet, and boredom can lead to cheat days. By giving yourself more options in your diet, you are more likely to stay on track. Swap out bacon and butter for Mediterranean fat sources such as olive oil, feta or goat’s cheese, and fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, etc.). These foods are not only higher in nutrients and beneficial fats, but they are also incredibly tasty, too!
Another way that you can draw inspiration from the Mediterranean diet without affecting your macronutrient ratios is through the use of more fresh herbs and spices in your cooking. These simple additions to your meals can help evoke the flavours of Mediterranean food without complicating your carb count. Some herbs and spices that are commonly used in Mediterranean cuisine include:
- Spices: paprika, saffron, black pepper, garlic, fennel, and crushed red pepper
- Fresh (or dried) herbs: basil, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and tarragon
Check out The Low Carb Grocery’s selection of low carb seasonings and spices, featuring great brands such as The Garlic Box, Hot Mamas, Fire in the Kitchen Spice Co. and more!
Why Limit Red Meat?
Another concern for low carb and ketogenic dieters is the limited consumption of red meat when following the Mediterranean diet. Many popular low carb foods and recipes involve the use of red meat such as beef, pork and lamb since these cuts of meat tend to be the highest in fats.
The reason the Mediterranean diet limits red meat again goes back to the goal of minimizing the amount of saturated (and trans) fats in the diet. These are said to increase your risk of coronary heart disease and related medical conditions whereas unsaturated fats, especially monounsaturated fats such as those found in olives and olive oil, actually have a positive effect on heart health. That said, as we mentioned previously, the Mediterranean diet as it has been publicized is a simplified version of the myriad of cuisines found throughout the Mediterranean region, many of which do include red meat as a staple in their diet.
Everyone has different needs when it comes to our diets – it’s all about bio-individuality; what works for one person, may not work for another. If you choose to consume red meat regularly as part of your low carb diet because it’s what you prefer, and you’ve discussed any health concerns with your doctor, then there is lots of Mediterranean inspiration to draw from! Try a low carb Moroccan Lamb Tagine, Keto Pork Gyros or a delicious Mediterranean Steak recipe!
A Low Carb Mediterranean Meal Plan Made Simple
So, you might be wondering what a day in the life of low carb Mediterranean eating really looks like. Below you can find some examples of Mediterranean-inspired low carb meals you can make for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Frittata or omelette made with kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, asparagus, bell peppers, feta or goat’s cheese, and seasoned with sage and thyme. Use extra virgin olive oil to cook*.
- A spread of kalamata olives, avocado, and sardines.
- Low carb bread topped with arugula, avocado, smoked salmon and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Greek salad made with romaine lettuce, cucumber, feta cheese and kalamata olives. Add salt, pepper, dried oregano, a squeeze of lemon juice and drizzle with olive oil. Add grilled salmon, chicken or tofu for some extra protein.
- Mediterranean Tuna Salad served inside avocado cups.
- Nut crusted salmon or chicken topped with Tzatziki sauce (Greek yogurt-based dill sauce) and served with grilled asparagus.
- Zucchini “noodles” tossed in extra virgin olive oil with grilled shrimp (seasoned with salt, pepper, onion, garlic, oregano, and basil), kalamata olives, and feta cheese. Add bell peppers and/or tomatoes if these fit within your macronutrient targets.
*Be sure to avoid heating extra virgin olive oil past 320F or 160C as it can start to oxidize at higher temperatures and cause inflammation in the body when consumed. In general, extra virgin olive oil is best enjoyed as a dressing, finishing drizzle, or used in low heat cooking.
The Mediterranean Lifestyle
There is more to the Mediterranean diet than just what you eat and drink! Many of the other aspects of this lifestyle are conducive to good health and well-being. These include:
1. Regular exercise.
Consistency is key – getting regular physical exercise (20 minutes at least 5 times a week) has been shown to improve overall health and reduce the risk of serious illnesses such as heart disease. A light walk every day can have more physical and mental benefits than hitting the gym for 2 hours a few times a month. So, get out and get moving as often as you can!
2. A sense of community.
Mediterranean cultures are heavily focused around family and community. This creates feelings of belonging and security and provides us with a greater sense of purpose in life. Community can also provide you with access to various resources (emotional and physical) during challenging times. As humans, having strong social connections has a positive impact on both our mental and physical well-being.
Due to the recent global health crisis, finding a sense of community can feel like a challenge at times. This is where virtual interactions become even more valuable and important, especially since our traditional ideas of community have been discouraged. It can help to talk to friends and family online or even find a new community of like-minded individuals. The Low Carb Grocery strives to create an open-dialogue community of low carb dieters on our social media pages. Check us out on Facebook and Instagram to connect!
3. Good sleep hygiene.
Too many of us aren’t getting the sleep we need! Not only are we not getting enough sleep, but the quality of our sleep is also compromised by things like stress, electronics and our environments. Bad sleep leads to a range of other problems, from mood swings and irritability to poor food choices (how many times have you eaten something that maybe wasn’t the healthiest, simply because you were too tired to find a better alternative?).
Ideally, aim to go to bed and wake at the same time every day (even on weekends!) to get your body into a predictable rhythm so it can function optimally. It is also recommended to avoid using electronics 1-2 hours before bed, and to sleep in a dark, cool room to get your best night’s rest.
4. Stress management.
This ties into our previous point about sleep, although stress can affect more than just our sleep quality. Stress has been shown to be the underlying cause of a number of chronic illnesses, and it can also affect how we show up at work, in our relationships and in our communities. While trying to balance everything in our busy lives, it is important to find periods of rest and relaxation. We can’t get everything done when our cups are less than full, so be sure to take time to re-charge regularly. And again, this may look different for everyone. Some people may unwind by chatting with a friend, taking a walk with the dog, watching a favourite show or enjoying a glass of wine. Choose what works best for you!
Connect with The Low Carb Grocery! We hope that you enjoyed reading this article and gained some helpful tips about diet and lifestyle from the Mediterranean diet’s principles. Remember to head over to our Facebook and Instagram pages if you would like to share your experiences or thoughts on this topic with our low carb community. We also love to hear your feedback, so please leave us a Google Review. And lastly, be sure to sign up for our email newsletters to receive updates on our latest product launches, low carb and keto-updates, and special sales.