The Mediterranean Diet Explained

You may be following the Mediterranean Diet now. Good for you!

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Enjoying meals with family and friends
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
  • Getting plenty of exercise

My ancestors from Venice, Italy ate pasta and it still is a staple in the Mediterranean. My family ate it because it was inexpensive and made up the bulk of their meals. The current Mediterranean Diet in the US suggest whole-grain pastas and rice, however look at the ingredient list – in all foods,  so you know what your getting.

Think of the Mediterranean Diet as simple. My grandmother from Italy made a delicious sauce by simply browning tomato paste. Bread was a staple and my mom was always sent to go to my Great Uncle John’s deli to pick up essentials, such as a loaf of bread or, on special occasions, some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. My grandfather who married my Italian grandmother loved eating herring, a type of fish again that was cheap. What the Italians brought to this country were recipes that would surprise you. A lot of healthy broths were made by my grandmother by boiling a whole chicken, provided not only healthy poultry meat, but a base for many other meals. The benefis of bone broth are catching on! And may limit your intake of OTC supplements.

Here are some of the winter drink’s health perks:

Heal and seal your gut;

Protect joints (glucosamine and chondrotin sulfate);

Sleep better;

Look younger (collagen);

Increase bone strength (phosphorus, magnesium and calcium;

Supplement your diet (supply of amino acids for non-meat eaters); and

Muscle recovery and energy

There was little to no waste. They ate fish, too. An old Italian recipe book I uncovered many years ago in a box revealed a lot of fish and seafood cooked in broth recipes. I wish I could find that book so I could share it here!

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They weren’t eating a whole lot, if any, processed foods. Meat, like rabbit was eaten, again because my grandfather brought home the meat from the wild. My mom said it was not a surprise to have to spit out a shot or two while eating the rabbit meat.

But back to the Mediterranean Diet as it exists today. Fatty fish — such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon — are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish is eaten on a regular basis in the Mediterranean diet today.

Wine is traditionally served even to the young at most meals.

The cardiovascular, especially the heart, benefits are enjoyed when it comes to eating healthy fats. What does the consumption of “virgin” or extra-virgin” oils mean in the diet?

The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol that’s more likely to build up deposits in your arteries. So butter, margarine are not part of the diet. These heart healthy fats are actually best found in eating “virgin” or extra-virgin” olive oil. They are the least processed and contain the highest level of antioxidants. Make sure you reach for these. Canola oil is also an acceptable fat that is consumed. However, if you wish to get the benefit from olives, by eating them, enjoy black olives as the bringing process in green olives reduces it’s healthy properties.

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The Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced incidence of cancer, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. This is due to the antioxidants in consumption of fruits and vegetables. And actually a lot of nutrition can be found in the skins of fruits and vegetables. My great grandmother nibbled on orange peel, or candied it to put in a delicous Italian bread called Panatonne. The skin of apples is where you’ll find a rich source of nutrients as fruits and vegetable typically contain a lot of water. Potatoes are another example of foods where the skin is skipped over part when it actually contains dense healthy properties. Aim for 7 to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables today.

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Eat more nuts. Keep almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts on hand for a quick snack. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, such as canola oil and some nuts, contain the beneficial linolenic acid (a type of omega-3 fatty acid). Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides, decrease blood clotting, are associated with decreased sudden heart attack, improve the health of your blood vessels, and help moderate blood pressure.

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As far as alcohol, such as the preferred red wine, doctors debate whether consumption is necessary. Grape juice is just as good. Limit alcohol to one serving – one beer, 6oz. of wine or a single shot of liquor.

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Fish is best eaten when it is caught wild. And one way to eat fish without the addition of a lot of oils is grilling it or even roasting it in the oven.

I hope this helps in providing a little more explanation about the Mediterranean Diet and it’s benefits. It’s rather simple and easy to follow! And it’s proven to extend the life-span. Just remember that with anything, moderation is key.

I hope to follow up with some recipes reflective of the diet. Wish me luck!

For now, I’ll provide you with a link to The Obama’s Executive Chef, Sam Kass’s approach to cooking sustainable and healthy fish recipes.

Sam Kass

 

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