To celebrate the Mediterranean diet month this May, let’s discuss the many benefits that come along with the Mediterranean way of life. The Mediterranean diet is based on the eating habits of the people living in the many different countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea; however, it is not just for the Mediterranean population. Health benefits have been seen in many different populations when a Mediterranean-style diet is followed. The adherence to a Mediterranean diet has been shown to provide significant protection against occurrence of major chronic diseases. The foundation of the diet is plant based. It includes daily intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats. Lots of herbs, spices, nuts and seeds are used frequently. Legumes, seafood, poultry, and eggs are also included in the diet regularly – think weekly. Smaller portions of dairy are a part of the Mediterranean plan, as well as smaller consumption of red meat. A little red wine can also be a part of meals.
Follow a Mediterranean diet for better quality of life and a reduced risk of mortality.
Getting Started on a Mediterranean Plan
Create new Mediterranean eating habits rather than follow rigid diet rules.
KEEP IT SIMPLE – Rather than considering this a strict dietary plan, aim to live the Mediterranean lifestyle. Enjoy your mealtime with friends and family, take relaxing walks, eat many vegetables, flavor your food with lots of fresh and dried herbs and spices, choose fish and sometimes chicken, eat fruit for dessert, and include fiber from nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Remember to also drink plenty of water, a simple but major component of the diet.
KEEP MOVING – Staying active is at the foundation of the Mediterranean diet pyramid. The pyramid is about more than food alone. Being active must be a part of a healthy Mediterranean-style life.
KEEP INTERACTING – Cook and eat together whenever possible. The healthy Mediterranean lifestyle includes social interaction and meals enjoyed in the company of others.
Keeping nutrition simple, staying active, and making special efforts to socially interact, even distantly, are three good healthy lifestyle practices to make a priority during the COVID-19 epidemic. May, just may be one of the best times to adopt a Mediterranean influenced routine.
Build a Mediterranean Pantry
Add a few new Mediterranean staples to your pantry from each category below:
Vegetables: Artichokes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, celery, cucumber, dandelion greens, eggplant, fennel, leeks, mushrooms, mustard greens, okra, onions, radishes, rutabaga, and zucchini.
Fruits: Avocados, apricots, cherries, clementines, lemons, olives, oranges, pomegranates, pumpkin, and tomatoes.
Grains: Bulgur, farro, millet, oats, rice, and wheat berries
Seafood: Fatty fish such as sardines, mackerel, anchovies, salmon, herring, and albacore tuna. Rotate a variety of fish to keep mercury levels low.
Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and walnuts.
Legumes: Chickpeas, fava beans, kidney beans, lentils, and peas.
Herbs and Spices: Basil, bay leaf, clove, cumin, fennel, garlic, lavender, mint, oregano, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme.
Dairy: Plain yogurt (if cow milk is tolerated), plain goat milk yogurt, and plain sheep milk yogurt.
Greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet and lifestyle has been associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, improved cognitive function and reduced risk of cognitive impairment, reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease, gut bacteria diversity, reduced coronary heart disease, reduced risk of stroke, and reductions in total cardiovascular disease.
Including many herbs and spices is a key part of this plan. Research shows their antioxidant powers, along with their ability to reduce inflammation, to help prevent cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and degenerative disease. By using more herbs and spices you will naturally reduce the amount of salt when cooking which reduces blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and stroke risk.
Fatty fish intake as part of a Mediterranean diet can reduce cardiovascular disease risk, reduce triglycerides, and increase HDL.
For the Mediterranean benefit of legumes for lowering coronary heart disease, consider eating fresh or dried legumes – aim for at least two servings per week, and occasionally consume them as your protein source instead of animal protein.
Whole Grains consumption over refined grains from foods such as quinoa, bulgur, farro, and sourdough bread are a part of the diet that provide fiber and protein. Intake has been shown to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and stroke.
A variety of vegetable and fruit intake has been shown to decrease blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, reduce oxidative stress, reduce inflammation, reduce risk of weight gain, and improve insulin sensitivity. To ensure the many protective benefits of vegetables and fruits, include an array of colors and categories, such as berries, stone fruits, leaf lettuces, or cruciferous vegetables to add different minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals, and fiber to your diet.
Olive oil’s ability to reduce inflammation and beneficial effects on endothelial function make it a major player protecting against cardiovascular disease. It has also been shown to have a protective effect on type 2 diabetes risk due to improved insulin sensitivity from polyphenol content. Purchase extra virgin olive oil in a dark bottle or tin when possible.
Consuming nuts and seeds as part of the Mediterranean diet may reduce inflammation, improve endothelial dysfunction, reduce oxidative stress, improve cognition function, better cholesterol levels, and enhance insulin sensitivity.
When a small amount of yogurt is consumed as part of a well balanced Mediterranean diet consisting of quality ingredients, it could lower the risk of type 2 diabetes as well as protect against cardiovascular disease and stroke.
This month, I invite you to a new nutrition challenge!
MAY FEEDING MAXWELL CHALLENGE
Cook with a new herb or spice each week!
Culinary herbs are an essential part of the Mediterranean diet. Rosemary, a native Mediterranean herb, is well known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It contains many polyphenolic compounds which have been found to scavenge free radicals, prevent cell damage, possess anti-microbial properties, and have an antidepressant effect. Rosemary has effective anti-cancer abilities, properties to improve respiratory and vascular conditions, demonstrates neuro-protection, and offers the capability to improve digestion and gut health. You would be wise to choose rosemary as your first herb during your Feeding MaxWell Challenge!
Roasted Artichokes With Olive Tapenade
- 2 artichokes
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- Juice from 2 lemons
- Dash of sea salt
- 1 cup green olives
- 1 cup kalamata olives
- 1/4 cup capers, drained
- 4 garlic cloves
- 3 anchovy filets
- 1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes packed in olive oil, drained
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley
- Juice from 1/2 lemon
- 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Chopped Herb Farro Salad
- 1 cup farro
- 1 can cannelloni beans (white beans)
- 1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup capers, drained
- 1 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, drained and chopped
- 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
- 2 T olive oil
- Freshly cracked black pepper
Farro is a high-fiber nutrient-rich ancient wheat grain. Different forms of farro include spelt, einkorn, and emmer. Since farro is a type of wheat, it is not gluten-free. The Mediterranean diet includes a variety of whole grains, gluten-containing and gluten-free. If you are avoiding gluten, you should not consume farro. Instead, try making the above herbed salad with sorghum.
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