We all love treating ourselves to a meal out at a restaurant occasionally.
And even though the Mediterranean diet is a flexible and sustainable approach to eating, if you want to follow the guidelines closely throughout, it may prove a little more challenging.
This article will cover some of the main points to consider when eating out on a Mediterranean diet and give some practical advice you can follow.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a dietary pattern that’s based on the traditional eating habits of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy, Greece, Spain, and southern France.
It has been studied for many years and is associated with numerous health benefits including reduced risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers.
Here are the main components and characteristics of the Mediterranean diet:
- Whole Foods: Focuses on consuming whole, unprocessed foods.
- Fruits and Vegetables: A high consumption of fruits, vegetables, and legumes. These provide important vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
- Healthy Fats: Primarily uses olive oil as the main source of dietary fat, which is a monounsaturated fat. Nuts and seeds are also consumed regularly.
- Whole Grains: Includes whole grains such as barley, oats, and whole grain bread and pasta.
- Fish and Seafood: Recommends eating fish and seafood at least twice a week. Fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are particularly emphasized because they’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Moderate Dairy Intake: Includes moderate consumption of dairy products, mainly in the form of cheese and yogurt
- Limited Red Meat: Reduces the intake of red meat to a few times a month.
- Limited Processed Foods: Minimizes the consumption of processed foods and beverages, including those with added sugars and unhealthy fats.
Tips to Eat Out at a Restaurant on the Mediterranean Diet
Try to Preplan Your Meal Beforehand
A great tip for sticking to healthy choices is to look at the restaurant’s menu online before you go. This way, you can decide on your meal without the pressure of ordering on the spot.
It allows you to take your time, assess your options, and make an informed decision without distractions.
Prioritize Certain Foods
The Mediterranean diet includes lots of healthy foods, even those that contain more fats or calories etc.
This is because they are more nutritious overall and have been studied to have various health benefits.
Within your meals aim to prioritize:
- More fruits and vegetables, particularly of different colors.
- Whole grains instead of white foods (white bread, white rice etc)
- Lean protein sources like fish, chicken and legumes instead of red meat
- Healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, fish, avocados and olive oil
Choose Lean Proteins
Lean proteins like chicken, turkey or fish are great choices. They are low in saturated fat and you can remove the skin.
If you do red meat, choose lean cuts like fillets of pork or beef. Avoid fatty cuts like bell pork or steak. If you do, you can still remove the visible fat around the edges.
Avoid battered or deep fried fishes. Even lean proteins like the ones mentioned means the extra calories and fats really add up due to the coating.
Choose Salads Over Fries
Fries may be tempting, especially when they come as the default side dish, but salads are the way to go if you’re aiming for nutrition.
A fresh salad, filled with vegetables, provides essential nutrients and fiber, which will keep you full and satisfied.
When compared to fries, which are usually deep-fried and high in unhealthy fats and salt, salads are the clear winner for health-conscious diners.
But Be Aware of Salad Dressings
While salads are a healthier choice, the dressing can sometimes defeat its purpose. Some dressings can be high in fat, sugar, and calories.
Always ask for the dressing on the side, so you have control over the amount you use. Opt for vinaigrettes or simple olive oil and lemon juice over creamier dressings like ranch or blue cheese.
Creamier dressings will contain more fat and calories. You’ll be surprised by how many calories they will add!
You can even bring your own bottle of vinaigrette if you’re sticking very rigidly to the diet.
Skip Sweet Drinks
It’s easy to overlook, but drinks can significantly add to your calorie and sugar intake.
Beverages like sodas, sweet teas, and many cocktails are loaded with sugars. Even fruit juices can contain a lot of sugar.
Unless you want to treat yourself Instead opt for water, unsweetened iced tea, or sparkling water with a slice of lemon or lime.
Although red wine is technically allowed on the Mediterranean diet, there are many reasons why you shouldn’t drink too much of it.
Grab Some Fruit Instead of Dessert
Desserts at restaurants can be incredibly indulgent and high in calories, sugars, and fats.
If you’re craving something sweet after your meal, choose a fruit-based option. Many restaurants offer fruit bowls or sorbets.
Not only will this satisfy your sweet tooth, but it will also provide essential vitamins and fiber.
If the restaurant doesn’t offer fruit-based desserts, you can always grab a sweet after leaving the restaurant, where you can control the portion sizes a bit better.
Opt For Grilled Foods
Grilled foods like fish, chicken or steamed veggies.
Grilled dishes, both meats and vegetables, are also often a healthier choice when dining out. The grilling process removes excess fat and gives leaner meat.
In addition, grilling retains the integrity and nutritional value of vegetables, intensifying their natural flavors without the need for excessive oils or seasonings.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
Although it can feel a little uncomfortable to ask the waiter for changes, don’t hesitate to communicate them if you have particular dietary preferences or restrictions.
You might find chefs willing to tweak a dish to make it more Mediterranean-friendly.
For example, you can ask if they will use olive oil instead of butter.
Exercise Portion Control
Restaurants often give a larger than needed portion size, particularly in comparison with what you would cook at home.
In this case, sometimes it’s okay not to eat everything and completely fill yourself up – that’s good, mindful eating!
If you don’t want to waste anything, ask the waiter for a container so that you can take the leftovers with you. You can focus on really enjoying your meal rather than forcing yourself to eat everything to get your money’s worth.
When it comes to desserts, these are easy to share with a friend – just request an extra plate.
You can also try to balance out richer foods with healthier choices. For example, if you have a creamy pasta dish, pair it with a side salad or steamed vegetables.
But Remember, It’s Fine to Simply Just Enjoy Yourself Occasionally
It’s fine to wander away from the Mediterranean diet guidelines once in a while.
The Mediterranean diet is supposed to be a lifestyle that you enjoy, not a diet that you rigidly follow. In the grand scheme of things, one evening of indulgence likely isn’t going to have your health long-term, as long it’s an occasional treat and not a regular thing.
You can’t simply avoid eating good things that you want to enjoy – it’ll just make you miserable. Being too focused on food may even be problematic for your mental health.
So feel free to enjoy your meal out and don’t stress about the small details.
To Sum Up
Eating out while following the Mediterranean diet does not have to be challenging.
With a little preparation and knowledge, you can enjoy your time at a restaurant whilst being mindful of following a Mediterranean diet.
Just remember that it’s not just a meal plan, but a way of life.
Want More Delicious, Mediterranean-Style Recipes?
If you’re looking for delicious Mediterranean recipes you can cook at home: