What Makes the Mediterranean Diet So Healthy?

With the internet saturated with articles touting the health benefits of all manner of diets, very few are able to stack up nutritionally, and even scientifically, quite like the Mediterranean diet.

Unlike the standard Westernized diet of heavily processed foods and take out, the Mediterranean diet focuses predominantly on natural, fresh produce and limits refined and processed foods.

Abundant use of high-fiber fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and good-quality protein has helped ensure Mediterranean populations stay healthy for decades. With reduced levels of inflammation, lower levels of chronic disease and healthy weight management, it is most certainly a diet worth exploring.

Foods Essential to the Mediterranean Diet

So where to start? Some of the key foods found in a healthy Mediterranean diet are:

  • Pastured organic meats — poultry is eaten more frequently than red meats
  • Wild-caught fresh fish and seafood
  • Pastured eggs
  • Nuts and seeds — in moderation
  • Leafy, green vegetables such as spinach and arugula
  • Low-starch vegetables such as tomatoes and zucchini
  • Fresh herbs and spices like basil, oregano and mint
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, predominantly for drizzling over salads
  • Plenty of water

Meals typically consist of a healthy lean protein flavored with aromatic herbs and spices, accompanied by low-starch vegetables or salads with a generous helping of olive oil.

This chicken souvlaki recipe is a terrific introduction to Mediterranean cooking. Simple to prepare and cook, the dish is packed with flavor as it uses a few simple, classic Mediterranean ingredients.

Typically served with a tzatziki yogurt, this adaptation is accompanied by a cool and refreshing salsa — a great alternative for those avoiding dairy. These chicken souvlaki skewers are free from processed ingredients. They are gluten-, dairy- and sugar-free and are an ideal addition to an anti-inflammatory diet.

Features of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet relies on the consumption of high-quality proteins. This recipe utilizes organic, free-range chicken, which is far superior nutritionally to commercially raised meat. Free from antibiotics and hormones, opting for pastured protein, goes a long way to supporting health and reducing inflammation.

A cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, extra-virgin olive oil is cited as a key contributor to the abundant health in Mediterranean populations. Packed with inflammation-fighting antioxidants, olive oil is a plentiful source of heart-healthy fatty acids, such as omega-3s. The key as always is quality, and cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil is the ideal choice.

Lemon trees dominate the Mediterranean terrain, so it’s no wonder they feature so heavily within the diet. Not only do they provide a beautifully refreshing twist to this recipe but lemons also provide a host of nutritional value too. A rich source of vitamin C, lemons are packed with antioxidants that support the immune system.

Oregano brings a classic flavor of the Mediterranean to this recipe. Although the recipe calls for fresh oregano, this can be substituted for 2 teaspoons of dried oregano if this is more accessible. Commonly used as an essential oil, oregano packs a healthy punch. Loaded with antioxidants, antibacterial and antifungal properties, oregano provides a phenomenal boost to the immune system.

Mint is another common flavor in Mediterranean dishes, bringing a refreshing and light taste to both sweet and savory dishes. Ideal for indigestion and nausea, mint provides digestive-soothing properties that help to calm the stomach.

A classic Mediterranean staple is a humble tomato. Rich in the antioxidant lycopene, tomatoes not only provide a rich sweetness to any recipe but also a phenomenal source of health benefits. An abundant source of vitamins and minerals, tomatoes are touted to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as providing cancer preventative properties.

Long touted for its medicinal properties, garlic is heavily used throughout Mediterranean cooking. This dish calls for three cloves, which infuse the chicken with a pungent aromatic scent. Among its many health benefits, garlic is a potent antibacterial and antifungal food, ideal for fighting infections. It has also been shown to prevent heart disease and reduce the risk of cancer.

With an abundance of health-giving properties, the foods of the Mediterranean diet are a superb choice for those looking to manage their weight, improve health and prevent disease.

This simple recipe is a great place to start.

The recipe makes four chicken skewers, but the ingredients can be doubled for extra guests. Delicious straight from the oven, these kebabs also taste great cold the next day, making an easy grab-and-go to lunch.

What’s more, these souvlaki kebabs are oven-baked, so they can be enjoyed year round without the need to fire up the barbecue grill.

Enjoy!

Chicken Souvlaki Skewers with a Mint, Cucumber and Tomato Salsa

INGREDIENTS

  • 12 ounces chicken breast, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 teaspoons fresh oregano, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
  • 1 cup finely diced cucumber
  • 1 cup diced cherry tomatoes
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Zest  1/2 a lemon
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • A pinch of ground black pepper
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat the oven to 390F and line a shallow oven tray with parchment paper.
  2. Add diced chicken to a mixing bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil, half the lemon juice, the lemon zest, garlic, oregano and a dash of salt and black pepper. Mix well to combine, cover and refrigerate for an hour to marinate.
  3. While the chicken is marinating, add four wooden skewers to a large bowl and cover with water to soak, which prevents them from burning in the oven.
  4. Remove the marinated chicken from the refrigerator and divide into four equal portions.
  5. Thread the chicken onto each of the skewers and arrange side-by-side on the lined oven tray.
  6. Transfer to the oven to bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through completely, turning the skewers halfway through cooking.
  7. While the chicken is cooking, make the refreshing salsa. Add cucumber, tomato, and mint to mixing bowl and stir to combine.
  8. Season with a little salt and black pepper and drizzle with the remaining olive oil and lemon juice. Toss to combine.
  9. Serve the kebabs hot alongside the salsa and fresh lemon to garnish.

SERVES: 2

Total time: 1 hour, 35 minutes Prep time: 1 hour, 15 minutes Cook time: 20 minutes

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Calories 328 Fat 19g Carbs 6g Protein 46g