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What is The Mediterranean Diet?

This month we have introduced a hint of summer with our Mediterranean Roasted Chicken. You may have heard of ‘The Mediterranean Diet’ but what is it? The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. While there is no single definition of the Mediterranean diet, it is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nut and seeds, and olive oil. How come it has become so popular and what are its benefits?

Mediterranean Region

The Mediterranean Diet

This biogeographical region includes the Mediterranean Sea and seven Member States, either partially (France, Portugal, Italy, Spain) or completely (Greece, Malta, Cyprus). It has specific regional features: a climate of hot dry summers and humid, cool winters and a generally hilly landscape. The overarching characteristics of Mediterranean cuisine are largely shaped by the climate and geography of the region.  For instance the sunny, mild Mediterranean climate yields an agricultural bounty that heavily influences the vegetable-dominant cuisines of the region. Key ingredients of Mediterranean cuisine include olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, protein-rich legumes, fish and whole grains with moderate amounts of wine and red meat.

Main Components

Mediterranean Style Eating
PhotoCredit: Healthline

A Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy living habits of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Greece, Italy and Spain. The main components of Mediterranean diet include:

  • Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats
  • Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans and eggs
  • Moderate portions of dairy products
  • Limited intake of red meat

Other important elements of the Mediterranean diet are sharing meals with family and friends, enjoying a glass of red wine and being physically active.

The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthy eating plans recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to promote health and prevent chronic disease. It is also recognized by the World Health Organization as a healthy and sustainable dietary pattern and as an intangible cultural asset by the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

American Scientist’s Discovery

Dr Ancel Keys
PhotoCredit: Mediterranean Diet

The discovery of the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet is attributed to the American scientist Ancel Keys of the University of Minnesota School of Power, who pointed out the correlation between cardiovascular disease and diet for the first time.  Dr. Ancel Keys and his colleagues were the first to discover that the Mediterranean diet has health benefits for a wide range of diseases. During the early 1950s and late 1960s, while Keys was investigating his hypothesis, the Mediterranean region was recovering from the effects of World War II but was not yet influenced by the rising trend of fast food. Keys formed his hypothesis from his simple observation that the people of the island Crete were in especially good health, largely due to their dietary habits.

Health Benefits

Research into the traditional Mediterranean diet has shown it may reduce a number of risks. These include developing conditions like type 2 diabeteshigh blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are all risk factors for heart disease. Researchers have also found that people who closely follow a Mediterranean diet may live a longer life and be less likely to put on weight.

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

In 1993 Oldways (a food and nutrition non-profit) created the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid in partnership with the Harvard School of Public Health and the WHO. Subsequently it replaced the USDA’s original food pyramid as a healthier version. Today, the Mediterranean Diet is more popular than ever, with new research every month documenting its benefits. Starting at the base of the pyramid, you’ll find:

  • Core foods to enjoy every day: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, herbs, spices, nuts and healthy fats such as olive oil.
  • Twice weekly servings of fish and seafood.
  • Moderate portions of dairy foods, eggs, and occasional poultry.
  • Infrequent servings of red meats and sweets.
Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

7 Easy Steps

Mediterranean Diet
PhotoCredit: Health.Harvard.Edu

Interested in trying the Mediterranean diet? Here are seven easy steps recommended by the Harvard Medical School to incorporate its basic principles into your meals:

Step 1: Cook and dress with olive oil

Dispense with the idea that all fats are bad for you. In fact, olive oil and other unsaturated fats are an integral part of this heart-healthy diet. When you sauté foods, coat your pan with olive oil instead of butter. Drizzle olive oil on your vegetables and fish before baking, and mix it into your salad dressings. Use “extra virgin” or “virgin” olive oil, because it’s the least processed type.

Step 2: Snack on nuts

A handful of walnuts or almonds will keep you full between meals and supply you with even more healthy unsaturated fat. Just avoid heavily salted or sweetened nut varieties.

Step 3: Eat more fruits and veggies

At each meal, make at least half of your plate fruits and vegetables. Include a variety of colors, for example, green (spinach, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts), orange (sweet potatoes, carrots, oranges), red (red pepper, tomatoes, strawberries), and purple (eggplant, beets, grapes). If you’re a reluctant vegetable eater, get creative. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on your eggplant before baking it, or drizzle olive oil over asparagus before roasting.

Step 4: Switch to fish

Twice a week, replace the meat in your meal with fish. Fish is high in heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and it’s more versatile than you might think. You can grill it, bake it, sauté it, or broil it. You can even chop it up and eat it between two slices of whole-grain bread. Look for fish varieties that are high in omega-3s but low in mercury. Examples might include salmon, sardines, canned light tuna, and tilapia.

Step 5: Pass on processed food

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes “whole” foods like cheese, yogurt, fish, grapes, and chicken. Additionally, foods should be as unadulterated as possible, meaning minimal added salt, sugar, and chemicals. Ideally, fruits and vegetables should also be at the peak of season (for example, buy apples in fall and oranges in winter). Leave cookies, crackers, potato chips, and other heavily processed boxed and bagged foods on the grocery store shelf—particularly if you can’t pronounce half of the ingredients.

Step 6: Eat fruit for dessert

You don’t have to give up dessert but you can make it better for you. Melt a little dark chocolate (containing more than 70% cocoa) over a dish of raspberries or strawberries for a decadent dessert you don’t have to feel guilty about.

Step 7: Drink wine—in moderation

Provided your doctor says it’s safe for you to drink, enjoy a glass of wine with dinner because there is evidence that red wine is heart protective. But don’t ask for a refill since drinking more than a glass or two daily could increase your risk for cancer or a stroke.

Why don’t you head over to Flavorly and try our Mediterranean Roasted Chicken? You might also like to try our chicken Piccata and Caprese Steak.



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