Mediterranean Diet- the near perfect diet!

The Nearly Perfect Diet Linda J. Kees, R.D., L.D., CNSC “One should eat to live, not live to eat” Moliere

Would you like to follow a diet that may help to prevent heart disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Type 2 Diabetes? Of course you would!

In addition to lowering your blood pressure with this diet, you can also lower your weight and cholesterol. This high fiber, heart healthy diet also includes red wine, berries of any kind, snacks such as pistachios and delicious seasonings such as fresh garlic. There is no one perfect diet, but this one comes close! What is this diet? It’s the Mediterranean diet.

Many recent studies show that the Mediterranean diet is more effective than a low fat diet in lowering your cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol. The basis of this fantastic diet is vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans/legumes, grains, pasta, potatoes, olive oil, Greek yogurt and cheese daily. Weekly, you can eat eggs, poultry, fish and sweets.

A few times a month, red meat is allowed. Red wine is also included in moderation, which equates to about 1 glass daily. Eating the Mediterranean way is tasty and quite simple as shown by the sample meal plan below:

Breakfast (the most important meal of the day!)

½ cup Steel cut Oatmeal topped with ½ cup plain Greek yogurt, ½ cup raspberries, 10 walnuts and a dash of cinnamon.

Midmorning Snack

1 tablespoon nut butter, spread on apple slices

Lunch

1 whole wheat pita bread, cut into triangles (for scooping hummus) ½ cup hummus (see recipe to make your own) 1 cup sliced red peppers or carrots (for scooping hummus) 1 kiwi fruit

Afternoon Snack

1 ounce pistachios (about 40) 1 Satsuma or small orange

Dinner

3 oz salmon 1 cup brown rice drizzled with olive oil

1 cup asparagus, roasted with garlic and olive oil

½ cup fresh pineapple 1 glass red wine (if desired)

Evening Snack

Whole grain crackers with mozzarella cheese

Hummus Recipe: Hummus is quick, inexpensive and easy to make if you have a blender or food processor. Serves 4

1 can garbanzo beans or chickpeas, drained & rinsed, save liquid

2 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp tahini (sesame paste, found in peanut butter section of store)

2 Tbsp Lemon juice

2 Tbsp olive oil

Salt/pepper to taste

In food processor or blender, place beans, garlic, tahini and lemon juice, process until smooth. Slowly add oil while processing. If needed, add bean liquid to thin hummus. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve with warm pita bread, pita chips or vegetables.

Why does this diet work? You may have heard of the “French Paradox”, where the French people are known to eat lots of fat and high fat dairy products, yet have very low occurrences of cardiovascular disease. The Mediterranean diet works much in the same way. Although the Mediterranean diet has been criticized as being high in fat, what really matters is the type of fat that is consumed.

Extra virgin or virgin Olive oil and nuts contain monounsaturated fats which are known to help lower cholesterol levels and decrease inflammation in the body. Fatty fish who live in cold water, such as salmon and mackerel, contain Omega-3 fatty acids which also decrease inflammation and may decrease heart disease risk factors.

The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (circa. 460-370 BC), known today as "the father of Western medicine", prescribed garlic for a wide range of conditions and illnesses. Hippocrates promoted the use of garlic for treating respiratory problems, parasites, poor digestion and fatigue. Fresh garlic contains potent anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties and may decrease risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Red wine contains the antioxidant resveratrol, which decreases inflammation. Red wine also contains quercetin, a flavonol, which is anti-viral and decreases inflammation. More studies need to done on quercetin, but so far, the results have been positive.

By replacing meat with beans, legumes and nuts, the fiber is increased and these foods contain a more desirable type of fat which causes less inflammation to the body. The majority of this diet is fruits, vegetables, pasta, grains, cereals, potatoes, nuts and legumes. Just by adding more fruits and vegetables alone will improve most of our diets. If you haven’t tried quinoa before, this is the time to do it! Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah) is a high protein, high fiber seed that is fantastic as a cereal, side (try a pilaf) or in a hearty salad. Before cooking, it is essential that you rinse the seeds first, otherwise, you will taste a bitterness. Combine the seeds with water in a saucepan and cook as directed on the package (usually about 15 minutes). Try a Corn, Quinoa and Avocado salad, recipe below.

Corn, Quinoa and Avocado Salad

This easy and healthy recipe will feed 6.

1 cup quinoa

2 cups broth

15oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

2 cups frozen corn

1 avocado, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 red onion, diced

1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped

1/4 cup olive oil

1 lime, zested

salt/pepper to taste

Quinoa: always rinse first, then cook as directed on package using broth instead of water. Set aside. Combine beans, corn, avocado, tomatoes and onion. Add salt, pepper and lime zest. Add 1/2 of cilantro. Toss cooked and cooled quinoa with olive oil and add salt/pepper to taste. Serve by spreading quinoa mixture on a platter, then top with bean/corn mixture and remaining cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.

The Mediterranean diet is one that should be followed over a lifetime. The foods are very palatable and simple, which makes it easy to follow. The added bonus is that you won’t have to give up red wine if you are already drinking it. Our lifestyle and overall health in the U.S. is much different from those in Mediterranean countries (Italy, Greece) and we should take lessons from how they live to improve our health. Those lessons include: Eating healthy, exercising daily, spending time with loved ones, getting adequate sleep and making time to take care of yourself. Salute!