By Susan Burke MS, RD, LD/N, CDE
eDiets Chief Nutritionist (Mediterranean Diet)
Need a little help shedding those extra pounds?
When I think of grilled fish, olive oil and wine I’m transported to the Mediterranean Sea. I think of days filled with sunshine and good food, walking on the shore and in the hills, and dry air, scented with fresh flowers and fruit.
While my fantasy is fun, we all can’t go back to the 1960s, when the Mediterranean Diet research determined that people living in countries including Crete, Greece and Italy had a surprising low rate of heart disease. They were active people, eating a diet of fresh, whole foods and avoiding processed and refined foods. This is the basis of a healthy lifestyle that allows maintenance of normal weight without sacrificing taste.
Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
Your Mediterranean Diet can transport you to a place where you’ll enjoy better health and lower risk for heart disease. The typical American diet is due for a sunny overhaul. Don’t worry! I know that our busy lives mean many don’t have a lot of time to shop, cook, and serve fresh food daily. But just by making these small but extremely significant changes to your diet and increasing activity, you will reap the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. Shop smart and strategize or, as I always say, prepare to succeed.
Mediterranean Diet Pyramid:-
1.Start from the bottom:
- The base of the pyramid is daily activity; it supports your efforts to lose weight and improve your health. Physically active people are more likely to maintain their goal weight and not have to count calories. Here are some ideas:
Walk 15 minutes one way, then back 15 minutes.
Attend an aerobics class twice or three times weekly.
Dance: Yurn on the radio and dance for 30 minutes every day.
Multi-task: Watch the morning or evening news at least 4 times a week for 30 minutes while you’re walking on your treadmill or pedaling your stationary bike.
Work in your garden for an hour three times a week. You’ll get in shape as you shape up your garden.
2.Change your fat:
Out with saturated and trans fat from butter, mayonnaise, margarine, cream and fatty red meat. They contribute to heart disease. Mediterranean eating
means healthy monounsaturated fats from healthy olive oil, canola and peanut oil (for cooking), all types of nuts and nut butters (without hydrogenated fat — read the label), seeds, avocado and olives. Fatty fish are good sources of antioxidant omega-3 fatty acids (see more about fish below).
3.Grains are good:
American grocery stores are onboard with whole grains designed for busy Americans, so don’t be intimidated. Quinoa, quick-cooking brown rice and whole-wheat couscous or bulgur cook fast and are deliciously versatile — for breakfast or as a side dish. Convenience is a cup of oatmeal and tossing in a handful of raisins and cashews — a satisfying breakfast that keeps you fueled all morning. Set aside an hour or so every Sunday and prepare some barley, millet and wheat berries to enjoy throughout the week in soups, casseroles and as side dishes with mushrooms and asparagus.
4.Fruit is fantastic:
Foods are made naturally sweeter with fresh fruit or frozen. In addition to fresh fruit, peruse your frozen-fruit aisle and pick up some berries, peaches and mixed fruit. Whole fruit is better than juice for its heart-healthy fiber, which helps maintain stable blood glucose and curbs your appetite. Fruit is the best dessert — try a wedge of melon with a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime. Sprinkle a bowl of sliced strawberries or blueberries with toasted, unsweetened wheat germ.
Today’s supermarkets offer a spectacular range of freshly washed and packed salad vegetables that require virtually no preparation. Buy bagged salad greens, shredded cabbage and pre-cut carrots, broccoli and cauliflower; top with quick-cooked shrimp or chicken breast for an easy “super-salad” meal. Frozen veggies are nutritious, sometimes even more than fresh if the fresh are shipped from far away. Vegetables retain their nutritional potency when lightly steamed. I find cooking in the microwave is so convenient; sprinkle with dried herbs and drizzle with olive oil.
Protein power: The traditional Mediterranean Diet includes red meat no more than a few times a month; avoid processed meats such as bacon, sausage and luncheon meats. Increase fish, skinless poultry and nonmeat protein from tofu and nuts. Eat a variety of fish at least 2 to 3 times weekly. Canned fish are ultra-convenient: sardines, salmon, shrimp, mackerel and tuna, packed in spring water or olive oil. Cook chicken breast or “meaty” fish such as salmon, tuna and halibut on a countertop grill. Shop for tofu in your vegetable aisle. Sauté sliced firm tofu in a nonstick pan with onions and serve with brown rice and a salad; blend soft tofu with garlic and fresh chives and spread on whole-grain bread.
Although the traditional Mediterranean Diet did not regularly include reduced fat dairy, today’s Americans enjoy the health benefits including calcium and vitamin D from healthy dairy and fortified dairy substitutes. Menus include nonfat or low-fat yogurt, milk or soy milk substitute daily as well as a variety of cheeses such as low-fat feta (sheep milk) and hard parmesan cheese.
8.A glass of wine:
Many Mediterranean cultures drink wine to enhance the enjoyment of meals, and research suggests moderate drinking may offer reduced risk for heart disease in some individuals. A glass of wine with your evening meal is optional. Limit to one glass per day for women, two for men. Don’t drink if you are pregnant or have a medical condition prohibiting alcohol.
Go to these Diet Tools for more information
The Oldways Mediterranean Diet Pyramid: Wondering how to get started? I think the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid is a great place to start because it “shows” you what a Mediterranean Diet looks like.
The Mediterranean Substitution List: helps you with portions and to understand which foods can be swapped out for others within each food category.