Savor the Mediterranean Diet
Sick of all the hype over “miracle” weight loss diets? Looking for an eating style that is easy to follow, is heart protective and tastes good? Consider the merits of the Mediterranean diet. Get the scoop on this classic diet with tips below from Cathy Leman, RD, LD, ACE-certified personal trainer and owner of NutriFit, a nutrition counseling/ consulting and in-home personal training business in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
The Mediterranean diet is not a new concept in nutrition, nor is it one of the latest fad diets. Quite the opposite, since the benefits of this diet have been praised since the Renaissance! The Mediterranean diet and variations on it are the traditional eating styles in certain regions of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, North Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East.
Mainly vegetarian, the Mediterranean diet consists primarily of these heart-healthy components:
- a daily abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts
- several servings of fish per week
- infrequent consumption of red meat (a few times per month)
- olive oil as the principal fat
- moderate consumption of wine with meals
One reason this diet continues to generate interest is its apparent ability to significantly decrease coronary heart disease. Scientific studies have shown that these two main components of the diet contribute to its heart-health benefits:
- low intake of cholesterol, saturated fat and trans fatty acids
- high intake of foods rich in protective antioxidants and phytochemicals, such as flavonoids, polyphenols and carotenoids
Plus, this diet allows you to eat healthy meals and still enjoy delicious foods! The flavors and textures in the foods are spectacular on their own, minimizing the need for heavy sauces and salty condiments.
Sometimes it’s challenging to change what you eat and how you eat it. To incorporate more of the Mediterranean diet into your life, try the following tips and see how you feel!
- To add more whole grains into your diet, broaden your selection of side dishes. Experiment with exotic whole-grain choices. For example, instead of rice, try barley or wheat berries cooked in chicken or vegetable broth. Sample amaranth, barley, buckwheat, couscous, flax, kamut, millet, polenta, quinoa, rye, spelt or triticale.
- To add more vegetables, grate carrots and zucchini into pasta sauces; add puréed or cooked fruits to baked goods and include vegetables in soups, stews and chili.
- To add more legumes and nuts, experiment with different ethnic foods. Try bean burritos, minestrone soup, hummus dip or dahl, a lentil-based Indian dish.
- To add more olive oil, skip the store-bought salad dressings; instead, mix extra-virgin olive oil with your favorite vinegar.
- To add more fish, put canned fish, like tuna and salmon, into salads, pastas and sandwiches.
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About 10 years ago, the Harvard School of Public Health and the Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust created the Mediterranean Diet Food Pyramid, which outlines how often certain foods should be eaten. compared with the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, the Mediterranean version differs primarily in its emphasis on daily olive oil consumption, its inclusion of wine as a recommended beverage and its reliance on plant foods over animal foods.
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