May is International Mediterranean Diet Month and I have to say it’s probably my favorite way of eating. Why? It is plant based but doesn’t necessarily mean meatless for those who still want to enjoy their occasional favorite cut of lean steak, chicken or seafood.
Plus, it consists of more than plant based foods. It also incorporates physical activity daily – both strenuous exercise like running and aerobics and more leisurely activities such as walking or yard work, as well as making simple changes such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator – family and making time to enjoy meals.
In other words, the Mediterranean diet is not another fad diet; it’s a lifestyle. And, if you know me (but in case you’re new to me) you know I’m not about trendy crash diets or radical, restrictive programs which are rarely sustainable for the long term. I’m about the practical; fresh, easy and delicious foods; and science based tips that will change my client’s lives for the better and their lifetime.
So, over 60 years ago scientists started to notice countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea enjoyed better health outcomes than other countries. A huge body of research has since been published on the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. This is another reason why I love the Mediterranean diet: lifestyle as medicine.
You can live a longer, healthier life with the Mediterranean diet. This way of eating can:
- Lengthen your life.
- Prevent asthma.
- Fight certain cancers.
- Protect against diabetes.
- Slow cognitive decline and safeguard against Alzheimer’s disease.
- Manage your weight.
- Lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Here’s the rundown of the foods that represent the foundation of the diet:
- Whole grains. Barley, brown rice, bulgur, whole wheat, couscous and farro are packed with nutrients, fiber and protein.
- Vegetables in abundance particularly leafy greens.
- Fresh fruit for dessert. Try apple slices with a nut butter or a peach with ricotta or cottage cheese.
- Nuts, seeds, beans and legumes which are great sources of protein, fiber and heart healthy fats. Swap beans for meat to make one to three meatless meals per week. If you use canned beans, rinse them well to remove some of the sodium. Nuts make a great snack. A small amount of sesame or sunflower seeds can be added to salads or tossed with roasted vegetables. Research nugget: Of all the nuts studied, the nut with the greatest health benefits, particularly for preventing cancer deaths, was walnuts. People who ate more than 3 servings of walnuts a week appeared to cut their risk of dying from cancer in half.
- Herbs and spices. Use fresh or dried herbs to enhance flavor and to add disease preventing antioxidants.
If you’d like to make this eating pattern fit your family, consider the following tips:
- Build meals around whole grains and vegetables – think stews, casseroles and soups.
- Use meat as a flavoring instead of a main component of a meal. Add small strips of sirloin to a sauté that features lots of vegetables and barley or farro as a side in place of rice.
- Top grilled meat with vegetable salsas or try a fruit salsa on fish.
- Add walnuts to hot cereal.
- Change your salads to mixed greens with dried fruit, walnuts, and feta or goat cheese with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- Grill Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli for a change of taste and top with toasted nuts to further up the flavor.
As you adopt the Mediterranean Diet, you’ll open your taste buds to a whole new world of flavors, while improving your overall health and well-being. To help get you started, check out my Risotto Style Barley.