The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the eating habits of people living near the Mediterranean Sea. It has been of interest since the 1950’s when Dr. Ancel Keys found that people living in these regions had lower instances of heart disease, reduction in cardiovascular events, survival from coronary heart disease and improvements in glycemic control with subsequent reduction in incidence of type 2 diabetes.
Mediterranean diet is not considered a “DIET”, but a way of eating. It is not something that people can do for a year and be done but is a change in lifestyle. While there is no single diet that fits everybody, it definitely is widely acclaimed for its health benefits. This diet was recognized as a number one diet by US news and World report as one of the best diets for weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention and diabetes control and prevention. It is also important to understand that there are many Mediterranean -style eating patterns that are practiced in the eighteen countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Their main focus is to eat high quality foods and very little to almost none processed foods. This diet along with a Mediterranean lifestyle program which included low-saturated fat diet, stress management, exercise and smoking cessation improved glycemic control, BMI and quality of life. These diets when followed for long periods of time ie 2 years and 4 years have shown to have higher rates of diabetes remission and delayed need for medication. It not only helps people with diabetes but it also has a protective effect against the development of type 2 diabetes.
Mediterranean diet is not complicated or it does not require one to move to southern Europe to adopt this region’s style of eating. Like many healthy diets, it focuses on fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, legumes, seeds and nuts, low fat dairy and herbs and spices and a liberal use of olive oil instead of butter and margarine.
Some of the main characteristics of the Mediterranean diets are the following:
- Plant based: These diets are abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds. These foods contain varying amounts of carbohydrates and it is important to pair high and low carbohydrate foods. Beans and lentils when eaten with white rice would be considered high carb foods but when combined with non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds become low carb meal. Use foods that are in season that are grown outdoors and not in green houses with added pesticides. Whole grains are also important as they have more fiber, B vitamins and phytonutrients which help with improving satiety, glycemic control and reduce the risk of heart disease.
- Protein: Avoid eating red meat and eat fish at least 2-3 x week to lower the risk of heart disease. Fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and albacore tuna are high in omega -3 fatty acids alleviate triglyceride levels and blood pressure. Make sure to grill and bake fish and not deep fry. Eggs are usually consumed in small amounts.
- Fats: This diet is high in unsaturated fats and low in saturated fats such as butter, ghee and margarine. Olive oil is abundantly used as it is monounsaturated fat that contains polyphenol which is a type of antioxidant. These polyphenols are anti-inflammatory, protect against heart disease and certain types of cancer. Olive oil should be used for cooking, baking and as a salad dressing.
- Limit Sweets: This diet includes fruits and should be used to satisfy one’s sweet tooth instead of desserts and sweets that raise blood sugar. Fruits are high in fiber and antioxidants and should be counted as your good carbs. Fruits eaten along side nuts and cheese will not raise your blood sugars.
- Alcohol: Red wine is consumed in small amounts with meals and avoid beer and mixed drinks that are high in carbohydrates.
- Herbs and Spices: These help to enhance the flavors in food and should be used instead of salt.
Mediterranean diets have many health benefits and one can adopt at least one healthy tip to make your diet healthier.
- Potatoes: 2
- Tomatoes 3
- Red onion: ½
- Black Olives:5
- Capers: 1 oz
- Extra virgin olive oil: 1 tbsp
- Dried Oregano to taste
- Boil Potatoes, peel and slice them
- Add sliced tomatoes, onion, olives and capers
- Season with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with oregano.
Nutrient Analysis: Calories: 80 kcal, Total Fat: 2 gm, Carbohydrate: 15gm, Dietary Fiber: 1 gm, Protein: 2 gm
Instead of this:
Sandwiches with white bread
Eggs with cheese
Try this Mediterranean option:
Whole grain tortillas
Cottage cheese with fresh fruit
Eggs with salsa
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts: 4 (5 oz each)
1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes
¼ c olive tapenade
¼ c chopped fresh basil leaves
¼ tsp salt
- Place chicken breasts on a sheet of waxed paper, sprinkle with 1/8 tsp salt, 2 tablespoons of basil and press lightly. Turn chicken breasts over.
- Sprinkle remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt over chicken; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons basil. Cover with another sheet of waxed paper.
- Pound chicken with rolling pin or meat mallet to 1/2-inch thickness.
- In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken breasts. Cook 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until golden brown on outside and no longer pink in center.
- Remove chicken to plate; cover to keep warm.
- Return skillet to medium-high heat. Add tomatoes and tapenade to skillet. Cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until tomatoes just begin to soften and mixture is heated through.
- Serve tomato mixture over chicken; top with remaining 2 tablespoons basil.
Nutrition Facts: 1 serving
Calories: 220 kcal, Total Fat: 8 g, Total carbohydrate: 3 g, Protein 32 g, Sodium 240 mg
by Asha Gullapalli, MS RD LDN CD