By Debbie Herbst, RD, LD, CDE
Mercy Hospital Carthage
The Mediterranean diet has received attention in recent years. Many studies have shown that this style of eating is related to preventing heart disease, lowering risk of diabetes, lowering blood pressure and helping with weight control.
What is the Mediterranean diet? The foundation is eating fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. These foods are what make up daily meals.
The main animal foods are seafood with moderate amounts of chicken, turkey, eggs and dairy products. Red meat usually is eaten only a few times a month.
Foods are cooked with garlic, onions and aromatic herbs like basil, oregano or parsley. Olive oil is used for cooking and for seasoning.
For desserts and snacks, fruits and nuts are served. Processed foods, snack chips, cakes, cookies, ice cream, soda and sweet tea are not part of the Mediterranean diet.
How do you get started?
Think of foods that you already like that are in the Mediterranean eating pattern. This could include apples, grapes, oranges, strawberries and blueberries. Buy those fruits weekly.
Eat fruit for a snack instead of chips or cookies. Buy one less dessert each week and eat fruit instead.
How about those luscious summer tomatoes? Do you like green beans, broccoli, carrots or cauliflower? Start with cooking a fresh or a frozen vegetable every day. Add sliced tomatoes, baby carrots or sliced cucumbers at another meal.
How about eating more seafood? Tuna is easy to fix as a tuna salad or in a casserole with vegetables. Try one new seafood each week. Frozen tilapia, swai or salmon are mild in flavor and cook in 10 to 15 minutes.
Traditional foods in this eating pattern include cooked dry beans. Canned black beans, kidney beans and garbanzo beans (chick peas) are tasty in salads, soups or mixed vegetable dishes. Try to eat beans of some kind twice a week.
Whole-grain breads, crackers and cereals are satisfying and filling. Examples of whole grains are oatmeal, brown rice and quinoa.
When cooking, use olive oil for seasoning vegetables and salads. Before grabbing the salt, pause and consider adding flavor with basil, parsley, oregano, onions or garlic. Many dishes have richer taste and texture with these kinds of ingredients.
Dairy products are great choices, such as reduced-fat yogurt and milk. Watch out for added sugars in these foods, such as sweetened yogurt or flavored milk.
Cheese is part of this eating plan, but cut back to 1 ounce a few times a week. Eggs are on the Mediterranean diet, up to four per week.
If you are a water drinker, you are well on your way to healthier eating patterns. If not, try alternating water with other drinks.
Think about saving money by not buying as much pop, sweetened tea or sweetened fruit drinks. Also think about saving money when eating out by drinking water instead of pop or tea. As you drink more water, you may find that you are less thirsty and prefer water over other beverages.
Why is changing to the Mediterranean diet beneficial?
Hundreds of research studies have shown that this food pattern increases lifespan, improves brain and eye function, and helps combat rheumatoid arthritis. Other results are lowering the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and depression.
In addition to eating and drinking patterns, the Mediterranean diet includes living in a more relaxed manner, plus regular physical activity. This means learning to handle stress and to live at a reasonable pace.
Are you spending quality time with family and friends? Do you have time to read or do a hobby? If not, think about one or two steps to become more relaxed.
What about tangible benefits? Do you like to save money? If so, the Mediterranean eating pattern includes low-cost foods like beans and seeds and less of expensive foods like red meat, snack foods and convenience foods.
Take steps toward the Mediterranean diet and you might just find a medical miracle.
Mercy clinical nutrition dietitians at Mercy Hospital Carthage on the McCune-Brooks Campus, 3125 Dr. Russell Smith Way, can be reached at 417-359-1359.