According to the Mayo Clinic, research has shown that a Mediterranean Diet reduces the risk of heart disease significantly. In fact, an analysis of more than 1.5 million adults demonstrated following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of death from heart disease and cancer, as well as a reduced incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. A diet that incorporates the basics of healthy eating plus a splash of olive oil and perhaps even a glass of red wine? Count me IN!!
The premise of the Mediterranean Diet is based on a food pyramid whereby fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs and spices are the basis of every meal. Fish and seafood are the next tier, followed by moderate portions of poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt, with sweets and meats consumed less often.
The key components of the Mediterranean Diet are:
eat primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetable, whole grains, legumes and nuts
replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil
using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
There are several misconceptions of how to take advantage of the Mediterranean lifestyle to lead to a healthier, longer life. One is that it costs a lot to eat this way. The truth of the matter is, if you're creating meals using beans and lentils as your main source of protein, and sticking with mostly plants and whole grains, the Mediterranean Diet is actually less expensive than cooking with meat, cheese and processed food.
For those who can down a bottle of red wine in one evening, just to be clear, because one glass of red wine is good for your heart, doesn't mean that three are better! In fact, anything more than 2 glasses of wine can actually be BAD for your heart.
Often people think of Mediterranean food as eating heaping bowls of pasta. However, unlike Americans and Canadians, Mediterraneans don't usually eat large portions of pasta in one sitting. More often than not, pasta is usually a side dish of 1/2 to 1 cup per serving, with the rest of the plate consisting of salads, vegetables, a small portion of meat, (about the size of a pack of cards), and perhaps a slice of whole grain bread.
You won't necessarily lose weight on a Mediterranean Diet either. The people who live on Greek islands don't have good cardiovascular health purely from their diet alone. Their everyday life includes walking up and down steep hills to tend to their gardens and animals, several times a day, often living off what they cultivate themselves. The physicality of their lifetstyle plays a significant role in their overal health. The bottom line is, if you want to lose weight, a combination of the Mediterranean Diet and physical activity is key.
Another key component of the Mediterranean Diet and overall healthy lifestyle is the manner in which they eat. When Mediterraneans sit down to eat a meal, they don't sit in front of a television set or rush to eat. They sit down for relaxed, leisurely enjoyment and appreciation of the food set before them with other people and this social connection may be just as important as what is on the plate!
So, now that you have the basics about the Mediterranean Diet, how can you get started on switching your lifestyle? It can be a bit daunting, but here are a few suggestions:
Eat lots of vegetables. Start small with a plate of diced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with crumbled feta cheese. Salads, soups and crudité plates are excellent choices and perhaps the next time you go for a slice of pizza, add peppers and mushrooms and leave off the salami and pepperoni.
Change the way you think about meat. Have smaller portion sizes of leaner meat, less often. Substitute chicken and fish for the red meat and add to your salads and wraps.
Always eat breakfast. Fruits and whole grains jump start your metabolism, getting your day off to a great start!
Eat seafood twice a week. There's lots of choices when it comes to seafood: tuna, salmon, herring, and sardines are all excellent sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, the good fats. Shellfish like mussels, oysters and clams have benefits for both the heart and the brain. Cod, halibut, sole, trout...the list is pretty much endless!
Jump on the Meatless Monday Train! Once a week, cook a vegetarian meal like eggplant parmigiano or Veggie Veg Chilli.
Use good fats. Extra virgin olive oil, nuts, sunflower seeds, olives and avocados are excellent sources of healthy fats to add to your daily meals.
Enjoy but limit dairy. Try consuming smaller amounts of cheese, eat Greek or plain yogurt, choose low fat or fat free dairy products.
Dessert. Instead of ice cream, cookies or cake, opt for fresh fruit, strawberries, figs, grapes or apples, or better yet - toss 'em all together with Greek Yogurt!
The main thing with this or any lifestyle altering diet is to start simple and work your way up. If you try to make too drastic of a change too soon, you'll soon get frustrated and revert to old ways. Make little changes like sauté in olive oil instead of butter. Instead of white rice and stir fried meat, chose quinoa and stir fried vegetables in olive oil.
As luck would have it, I love Mediterranean food, and in particular Greek cuisine. For supper last night, we had Baked Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken Breasts with a Mediterranean Quinoa Pilaf and Baked Parmesan Tomatoes, one of my youngest daughter's favorites., and for my husband and I, a lovely Placido Chianti.
This meal is proof that it doesn't have to be complicated, expensive or unhealthy, to be delicious. Excluding the wine, the cost per portion comes in around $4.26. Easy, healthy, inexpensive AND delicious...exactly how I like it!