Author Kristin Kirby, Keiser University Dietetic Intern.

You may have heard that the Mediterranean Diet is beneficial to your health, but what does that mean?

The Mediterranean Diet is based on the traditional foods eaten from countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea. The diet is full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish, and olive oil. You’ve seen those foods at your local grocery store, right? The Mediterranean Diet has been proven to increase lifespan by protecting against heart disease and inflammation.

But calling the Mediterranean Diet a “diet” is a bit misleading. More than a diet, the Mediterranean Diet is a lifestyle that encourages enjoying your meals in the company of family and friends. Sitting down, relaxing, and taking time to eat meals is part of daily life for those who live around the Mediterranean Sea.

Have you ever noticed a decreased appetite when eating alone? Spending time enjoying a meal with friends and family can lift your spirits and allow you to savor your food.

The Mediterranean Diet also includes getting a moderate amount of exercise. People who live in Mediterranean countries tend to live in communities where walking is common, which makes getting daily exercise easier.

Have you ever thought about taking a walk with a friend after dinner? Nightly after-dinner walks decrease stress levels and promote mobility.

Does this mean I have to change my entire life overnight?

Absolutely not!

Most of us feel overwhelmed if we think we have to make big changes all at once!

We can start simply by adding olive oil to our meals.

Olive oil, a foundational piece in the Mediterranean diet puzzle, is full of healthy fats that decrease inflammation in the body. Decreased inflammation helps to prevent heart disease. Olive oil also helps your heart by lowering low-density lipoproteins (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol and increasing high-density lipoproteins (HDL) or “good” cholesterol. HDL helps remove other forms of cholesterol from your blood.

Using olive oil in your meals helps balance gut bacteria, which can decrease inflammation and improve gut health. Who doesn’t want a healthier gut?

You can achieve the health benefits of olive oil by slowly working up to 4 tablespoons per day.

But what if I’m counting my calories? Although there are 119 calories per tablespoon of olive oil, the healthy fats will help you feel satisfied after eating. This feeling of fullness can decrease the number of empty calories you consume from less nutritious foods throughout the day.

So, gather some friends around the table and enjoy some easy ways to add olive oil to your meals!
• Use it as a dressing on a salad
• Add it to the pan before cooking vegetables on the stove-top
• Drizzle it over vegetables before roasting them in the oven
• Add it to pasta sauce
• Use it as a dip for bread instead of butter
• Toss it in pasta salad