As we look forward to enjoying our December holidays, I hope many of you are looking for suggestions for a healthier 2019. In that spirit, let’s explore the Mediterranean Diet. Touted in books, by many physicians and in the media, this dietary choice is a popular and healthy alternative. No diet plan is perfect, and we are all different with unique dietary needs; however, this is a plan that works well for many people, even those not living in near the Mediterranean Sea.
The Mediterranean Diet (or Med Diet) is the common dietary choice for people living in the countries that surround the Mediterranean, but you don’t need to travel any further than your local supermarket (and your garden) to discover its delicious flavors and fresh foods. It’s easy to bring the important health benefits and affordable Mediterranean style of eating to your kitchen, and to your table. The nutritional professionals that suggest this diet say that following the Med Diet is all about making some simple but helpful changes in the way you eat today, tomorrow and for the rest of your life.
Here are eight steps towards adopting the Mediterranean Diet:
1. Eat plenty of nutrient dense vegetables. From a simple plate of sliced fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and crumbled feta cheese to stunning salads, garlicky greens, fragrant soups and stews, healthy pizzas, or an oven-roasted medley. Vegetables are a key component to the fresh tastes and delicious flavors of the Med Diet.
2. Change the way you think about meat. If you eat meat, have smaller amounts – small strips of sirloin in a vegetable sauté. Make sure that you use only meat from animals raised on pasture, which will have less, but healthier fat.
3. Always eat breakfast. Start your day with eggs from free range chickens, and fiber-rich foods such as fruit, as well as properly prepared whole grains to keep you full for hours. A plate of (leftovers from dinner) sauteed vegetables topped with a couple of poached eggs is a favorite in our home.
4. Eat seafood twice a week. Fish such as tuna, herring, salmon and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish including mussels, oysters, and clams have many health benefits for brain and heart health.
5. For variety, cook a vegetarian meal one night a week. Build meals around beans, whole grains and vegetables, and heighten the flavor with flavorful herbs and spices. Make sure your grain and beans are properly soaked overnight with a small amount of vinegar prior to cooking to reduce the unhealthy high levels of phytates that are present. Phytates can prevent you from using the healthy minerals in your meals.
6. Use good fats. Include sources of healthy fats in daily meals, especially extra-virgin olive oil, soaked nuts, sunflower seeds, olives and avocados.
7. Enjoy some fermented dairy products. Eat Greek or plain full fat yogurt, kefir and try small amounts of a variety of cheeses. If you have cheeses made from raw milk available, these choices may be easier to digest.
8. For dessert, eat fiber-rich fresh fruit. Choose from a wide range of delicious fresh fruits – from fresh figs and oranges to pomegranates, grapes and apples. Avoid dried fruit due to the much higher concentrations of sugar than the fresh versions.
Here is a simple dressing which is a great topping for a salad or steamed veggies:
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 medium clove garlic, pressed or chopped (or more)
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and black pepper to taste
1-1/2 tbsp. sunflower seeds
Are you an avid gardener? If so you are most likely spending these cold rainy days looking at seed catalogs, and dreaming about those fresh cukes and tomatoes that you will harvest next summer. Envision, your gardens bounty, add some fresh herbs for flavor, meat or fish for protein and a splash of cold-pressed olive oil. If you close your eyes, you can almost smell the Mediterranean’s salty air. Salud!