Early last week, an article was released by the New York Times regarding a study released by the New England Journal of Medicine. In the study, it showed that 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet. The diet helped those following it even though they did not lose weight, and most were already taking statins, or blood pressure or diabetes drugs to lower their heart disease risk.
So, what exactly does this mean?
The Mediterranean diet is based on the principles of enjoyment and pleasure. Food, drink and meals are best eaten with others, when possible, and savored. Mediterranean meals feature foods grown all around the Mediterranean Sea including Italy, Greece, France, Spain, Morocco, Egypt and Turkey to name a few. Eating the right portion sizes is key in the Mediterranean diet.
Grains (such as wheat, oat, rice, rye, barley and corn), vegetables and fruits should be eaten at most meals as they are a great source of vitamins, minerals, energy, antioxidants and fiber. These foods promote good health and weight control.
Olives are key to the Mediterranean diet, and olive oil is the principal fat used in cooking and baking. Extra virgin olive oil, the one I use, has the highest health promoting fats and other important nutrients. Besides tasting good, olive oil has also been used for centuries for therapeutic uses as well.
Nuts, beans, legumes and seeds are good sources of healthy fats, protein and fiber and add flavor and texture to Mediterranean dishes.
Herbs and spices add flavor to food, allowing a reduction in the need to add salt when cooking. You will notice in most of my recipes the recipe won't list a measurement for salt; instead I'll make a note to add "to taste". Everyone's tastes are different and by using these fresh herbs, many times no additional salt is needed.
Cheese and yogurt are eaten regularly in the Mediterranean diet, but in moderation. The calcium is important for bone and heart health.
Fish and shellfish such as tuna, herring, sardines, salmon, mussels, clams and shrimp are rich in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and shellfish such as are a healthy protein and are generally not battered and fried.
Eggs are a good source of protein and are a wonderful substitute for those that don't eat meat. Lean cuts of meat are eaten in small portions, especially poultry which doesn't have the high levels of saturate percent fat is a good choice.
Wine is consumed regularly but in moderation in the Mediterranean diet, which means up to one 5-ounce glass per day for women and up to two 5-ounce glasses for men.
Water is necessary for proper hydration each day and helps with the well-being and energy levels. Each person's daily intake may vary depending on their body size, metabolic rates and activity levels; however, according to the Mayo Clinic, it is recommended that you drink eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid per day.
Here are some recommendations and guidelines from Netplaces.com.
- Bread Group: Eat no more than one serving from this group at any 1/4 cup dry uncooked couscous, two ounces dry uncooked pasta, 1/2 cup dry uncooked oatmeal, 1/4 cup rice (brown rice is preferable), 3/4 cup dry unsweetened flake cereals, one (6-ounce) potato.
- Vegetable Group: Eat as much as you like in this group! Vegetables provide few calories and lots of vitamins and minerals.
- Legumes and Nuts Group: Eat no more than two portions from this group at any meal. A single portion size is as follows: one cup of beans including garbanzo, pinto, kidney, white, split, black-eyed; one cup lentils; one ounce of nuts including all tree nuts and peanuts.
- Fruit Group: Eat no more that two portions from this group at any meal. A single portion size is as follows: one small (4-ounce) apple, one small orange, one small banana, 1/3 melon, three dates, two medium-size fresh figs, one kiwi, 1/2 small mango.
- Olive Oil: Use often, but use a teaspoon when pouring out of the bottle. Remember that it is very calorie-dense, so you want to keep portion sizes small.
- Cheese and Yogurt: Try to consume low-fat and fat-free versions when possible. Do not consume more than 1 1/2 teaspoons of grated cheese and one cup of milk or yogurt daily.
- Fish and Poultry: Eat 15 ounces per week. A single portion size is usually 3 to 4 ounces. The rule of thumb is limiting one portion to the size of a deck of playing cards.
- Eggs: Weekly consumption should be from 0 to 4. This includes eggs used in baking and cooking. A single portion size is equal to one egg.
- Sweets: Generally one portion size is 1/2 cup. Sweets should be saved for special occasions.
- Red Meat: Consume red meat only once a month. A single serving size is equal to 3 to 4 ounces.
A balanced and healthy diet consists of food and drink, as long as moderation and wise choices are made. For example, enjoying a small piece of birthday cake, savoring a few slices of grilled steak, or relaxing with family and friends with a glass or two of wine or beer are important aspects of being human. As always, moderation is the wise watchword. It is also important to have daily physical activity that includes strenuous exercise like running or aerobics, as well as leisurely exercise like walking, housework or yard work.