Kara Morton is a third year medical student at University of Louisville School of Medicine. You can follow her on instagram.
Based on information about macronutrients, vitamins and minerals, and the research-based recommendations from the leading experts in nutrition, the healthiest diet for humans is a plant-based or “plant-forward” Mediterranean diet. This is a diet that follows all of the recommendations set forth by the AHA described above.
According to the AHA, a Mediterranean-style menu typically includes:
- Plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, potatoes, beans, nuts, and seeds
- Olive oil as a primary fat source
- Low to moderate amounts of low-fat dairy products, eggs, and fish
If you take a look at the bulk of what is included in the Mediterranean-style diet, you will notice that it is mainly foods that come from whole plant sources. This is what “plant-based” or “plant-forward” means. In short, the more plant-based foods you include in your diet, the healthier your diet will be! It is even possible to eat an exclusively plant-based diet (no meat or animal products at all) and still comply with the healthy Mediterranean style diet. Plus, a solely plant-based diet that includes a variety of healthy whole plant foods is a sustainable and health-promoting eating pattern, too.
Here are a few meal ideas that meet the plant-based Mediterranean style of eating:
- A bowl of plain oatmeal made with water, low-fat milk, or plant milk. Top with fresh fruit, walnuts, and cinnamon.
- Greek salad with mixed leafy greens, tomatoes, chickpeas, Kalamata olives, quinoa, and parsley. Top with a squeeze of lemon juice and a small drizzle of olive oil; 1 Tbsp feta cheese optional
- A large plate of roasted mixed vegetables with a drizzle of olive oil and low-sodium spices of choice served over brown rice with a 3oz side of baked salmon. Lentil soup with vegetables and a side of whole-grain bread. A dessert of fresh fruit with a side of mixed nuts.
What about meat, dairy, and eggs?
A diet too high in these food groups is often associated with a greater risk of developing chronic diseases like obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Making choices to lower your intake of processed meats, red meat, eggs, and full-fat dairy is recommended by the AHA. Certain meats, such as chicken and fish, can be included in smaller amounts as part of the Mediterranean-style diet. However, these meats may be eaten as a side dish or complement to a vegetable-filled meal rather than the main course. This principle is also true for eggs, which might be eaten once per week instead of once per day, and low-fat dairy, which might not have to be included in every meal.
Overall, a healthy diet is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle; this lifestyle also includes regular exercise, stress management, no smoking or other substance use, good sleep, and meaningful social connections. Each of these components alone have been shown to reduce risk of disease, improve health, and prolong life. All of these components together have the potential to maximize your health and wellbeing for the rest of your life!
For more detailed information, visit any of the following pages:
- The American Heart Association diet and lifestyle webpage
- An ethical plant-based vegan diet,
- The American College of Lifestyle Medicine
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- USDA’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans