Mediterranean-style eating has roots, as you may expect, in the Mediterranean region where tropical blue waters lap on beautiful coastlines. It was found that middle-aged men living in the Mediterranean region, specifically in southern Greece, had lower rates of cardiovascular disease than any other populations studied around the world. The question soon became, what is different about their lifestyle that leads to reduced rates of cardiovascular disease? The answer was diet and an active lifestyle and the beauty of Mediterranean style eating is that it emphasizes what you can eat as opposed to focusing on what you can't eat. There is less focus on simply restricting calories or eliminating foods altogether making it easier to follow and providing long-term results and benefits. Think of traditional European cultural foods from countries like France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey and Morocco.
The Base of Mediterranean-Style Eating
Fruits and Vegetables: The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that half of your plate is filled with fruits and vegetables, which provide vitamins, minerals, fiber, and are low in calories. Roasting vegetables in the oven with a bit of olive oil and fresh herbs, such as Herbs de Provence (a culinary herb blend popular in France and available at your local grocery story) is a great way to enjoy more vegies. Roasting brings out the flavors and if cooking in the AGA range, it means even more flavor—as it locks in moisture through it’s cast iron structure and natural convection method.
Beans, Nuts, and Seeds: These foods are all great sources of plant-based protein, which plays a role in just about every function in your body. Consuming enough protein can help prevent muscle deterioration as you age. Substituting red meat with plant-based foods, like kidney beans, chick peas and almonds, provides all the benefits of protein and fiber without the negative effects of higher-fat animal-based foods.
Fish: Replacing two or three meat-filled meals with fish throughout the week can work wonders on triglyceride levels and with certain types of fish, it may even slow the rate of cognition decline. A few examples of fish available in the Midwest that contain the healthful omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and sardines.
Olive Oil: What is so special about olive oil? Olive oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids which help lower LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol levels. Compare it to butter or animal fat that is high in saturated fatty acids which can raise cholesterol levels. As with any fat or oil, it is important to remember to use in moderation. The point is not to simply add olive oil in the diet, but substitute or replace fats currently used for the heart- healthy alternative.
Wine: For heart health, it has been shown that one glass a day of wine may actually be beneficial. Wine is rich in antioxidants which can play a role in reducing the number of free radicals in your body (potential cancer-causing agents). Again, moderation is the key and it is important to be aware of the harmful effects of too much alcohol.
The Club Med Plan: Now that you have the basics for Mediterranean eating, why not plan your next meal around a “trip” to the beach. Simple, fresh foods with quality ingredients can make meals more enjoyable and healthful. How about chick-peas tossed with fresh zucchini, red bell pepper, garlic and olive oil. Served with avocado spread, sardines with Dijon mustard and crusty French bread.
Healthy living with a purpose,
Ruth Lahmayer Chipps, MS, RDN, CD - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist