The Mediterranean diet is known around the world as a healthy, celebratory approach to eating. Based on the traditional foods—and food habits—that you’ll find in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, this well-balanced “diet” focuses on vegetables, fruits, lean proteins like fish, whole grains, good fats, and legumes. It’s often said that this way of eating can add years to your life.
Sounds pretty great, right? But the benefits don’t stop there. Many of the delicious, nutritious foods at the heart of the Mediterranean diet are multifunctional, offering quick solutions to all kinds of common beauty, health, and travel-related woes.
With years of travel under my belt (and many OMG moments), I’ve discovered some reliable hacks involving these ingredients. Take a look at a few of my favorites and try them out at home, or on your next trip to the Med.
Mediterranean Diet Ingredient: Olive Oil
Gets things unstuck and nourishes on the go
Obviously, olive oil is used for cooking. But this powerful ingredient can also be your secret weapon in many situations. One example: removing beach tar, that dark stuff that you find stuck to the bottoms of your feet after enjoying a day of sun and sand. Beach tar was a common problem while I was growing up in Southern California, and my parents used turpentine (a nasty paint remover) to get it off. I’m not sure when we realized that olive oil can do the trick, but once we did, it was a no-brainer. Just rub a little over the tar stains, and they’ll come right off! As an added bonus, your feet will enjoy the extra hydration and skin benefits that make olive oil a go-to for many beauty aficionados.
Speaking of beauty, you can also use olive oil as a makeup remover and get rid of that pesky leftover mascara while nourishing your face. I’ve even found it useful in untangling necklaces that get knotted during travel, and it’s a great quick fix for tricky zippers—on clothes and on luggage.
This wonder oil is also great for travelers because it’s always accessible—just walk into the kitchen of your Airbnb, call the restaurant (or front desk) at your hotel, or pick up a bottle at a local market.
Mediterranean Diet Ingredient: Lemons
The hygiene, highlight, and cracked heel hero
Lemons. A fruit that I absolutely can’t live without, and that can be used for so many things. When COVID caused all of the salons to shut down, I turned to lemon juice (and the privilege of living in sunny SoCal) to keep my hair highlighted and fresh. After 30 minutes in the sun with some lemon juice and leave-in conditioner, I had my shiny blonde highlights back. Lemons have a similar effect on my skin, and they’ve helped me lighten a few of the sunspots that I’ve developed over the years.
Also, if you run out of deodorant but have access to a lemon, fear not! That lemon has you covered. Because of its acidity and antimicrobial properties, it’s also good for hands. Use lemon juice to kill germs and enjoy the fresh, clean smell (while giving your nails and cuticles some love).
The juice isn’t the only part of a lemon that’s surprisingly useful. The “shell” (what you’re left with after cutting a lemon in half and juicing it, so more than just the peel) helps with cracked heels, which are a frequent problem on beach vacations when flip-flops are the requisite footwear. Put the “shells” on your heels, cover them with socks, relax for about a half hour and voila! The acid from the lemon gets rid of dead skin cells, leaving you with silky smooth feet.
Lemons are also a great health aid. If you’re feeling queasy or nauseous, or like you’re coming down with a cold, add lemon juice to warm water. It helps ease sore throats and settle stomachs.
That lemon juice/water combo can also help freshen up hotel rooms, with a quick wipe down of a few surfaces. If you’re staying in a charming old hotel or villa—which are common in Europe—put a few drops of lemon juice on the cracks to keep bugs out. If those unwanted visitors do sneak in, spray some lemon juice on bug bites to heal them quickly. If you traveled in Europe in the summer, you know you can get eaten alive. Luckily, lemons tend to be pretty accessible, especially in the Amalfi Coast region (which is famous for its lemons).
Mediterranean Diet Ingredient: Garlic
Helps you stay well and keep bugs at bay
Garlic provides many health benefits, which is probably why numerous cultures—especially those found near the Mediterranean—use raw garlic as a natural antibiotic. I’ve seen my husband eat five cloves of raw garlic at the start of a cold, and the next day, he doesn’t even have a sniffle. If you’re on the road and start to feel sick (which happens often when traveling), and you can stomach it, eating garlic raw is worth a shot. It may help you enjoy the rest of your journey to the fullest and avoid being holed up in your hotel room with a box of tissues.
In a topical form, garlic can be used as an anti-fungal treatment for toenails and even help cure athlete’s foot—both of which may become problems when you’re traveling and doing a lot of walking in closed-toed shoes.
Lastly, before heading outside for dinner alfresco at your vacation villa, grab a few cloves of garlic and put them in a dish at the center of your table. This will ensure a delightful experience, free from annoying flies and mosquitoes.
Mediterranean Diet Ingredient: Tomatoes
Skin’s (delicious) best friend
The Mediterranean is famous for the fresh, healthy, colorful fruits and vegetables that grow in its rich soil (and perfect climate). Mediterranean produce is seriously delicious and, for me, the tomatoes in Italy are better than anywhere else in the world—no matter what anyone else says.
Diets rich in tomatoes help prevent sunburn, so make sure to eat them up. If you forget your SPF and end up pinkish, rub an open tomato on the burn. Doing so provides instant relief and helps your skin heal faster, so that the rest of your sun-drenched vacation isn’t ruined.
From a beauty perspective, tomatoes are an effective way of reducing oiliness. Rub tomatoes on your body, let the juice stay on for at least five minutes, and your skin will feel tighter and cleaner. A tomato face mask can be a good idea, too, as it tightens pores and reduces blackheads.
Mediterranean Diet Ingredient: Herbs
Stress-fighters, stomach soothers, and so much more
The Mediterranean is home to many of the herbs that we use for cooking, but these flavor enhancers can be beneficial outside the kitchen, too.
One example: Basil. Mix a few leaves with hot water for near-instant stomachache relief, and keep a small plant outside to fight off mosquitos. If you’re renting a villa with a yard on your Mediterranean vacation, you may already find a plant there.
Next up, the ever-versatile herb, mint. Mint leaves can be used for stress relief in the bath, to fight nausea (when mixed with warm water), to freshen breath, and to repel insects like bees and wasps.
Last, but certainly not least, chamomile. This wonderful herb has proven to be a lifesaver for my family on many occasions, and I always pack a few chamomile tea bags for our travels. Chamomile helps with itchy, irritating bug bites and serves as a calming, safe sleep aid for adults and children. If your kiddo is going through the teething phase, definitely don’t throw your tea bag away—it can ease their pain, and help you get some rest.