What’s the Mediterranean Diet?

2016-03-10-Med-Diet

 

The Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest and easiest diets to follow. With its focus on plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, it’s no surprise that it’s healthy for your heart, your waistline and your brain.

 

In fact, a recent study published in the journal Neurology indicated that adhering to the Mediterranean diet, including eating more fish and less meat, benefited the structure of the brain[1], while another study indicated that the Mediterranean diet enhanced with extra virgin olive oil or mixed nuts appears to improve cognition compared with a low-fat diet[2].

 

Changing your eating habits isn’t always easy but the Mediterranean diet is one of the simplest to follow.  It isn’t restrictive and offers a variety of delicious options.

 

The following are some of the main foods of this diet that you should include in your daily routine for their health benefits.

Vegetables and fruits

You already know that plenty of fruits and vegetables are part of any healthy diet and the Mediterranean diet is no exception. In fact, some experts recommend getting up to 9 servings a day, emphasizing more on vegetables than fruits. Nevertheless, both are low in calories, have tons of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and are filled with fiber to help you feel satisfied.

 

What to choose: Focus on leafy green vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, kale and spinach, but be sure to also include all colors of the rainbow. Aim for two servings at every meal and include vegetables with your snacks. Blend a green smoothie for breakfast, fill your salad with extra veggies, or pair slices of peppers with hummus for a healthy and delicious snack.

Fish

Fish and seafood contain omega 3-fatty acids, including EPA and DHA.  Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids are heart-healthy, may help with inflammation, support brain health, and may even ward off the blues.

 

What to choose: Aim for at least two servings of fish a week. Fish higher in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, mackerel, lake trout and herring.  Some fish, such as tuna, may contain high levels of mercury and contaminants, so stick with canned chunk light if possible or eat canned salmon instead. If you’re not a regular consumer of fish, consult your healthcare practitioner about taking an omega-3 supplement such as krill oil to get these important fatty acids in your diet.

Beans

Beans and legumes are good for your blood sugar, blood pressure and are heart healthy[3]. They’re also low in fat, an excellent source of iron, folate, potassium, magnesium and antioxidants.  Since they contain protein and fiber, they contribute to keeping you feel fuller longer.

 

What to choose: Beans are versatile in any meal and as a source of protein can easily replace meat in many dishes. Serve a crudité with black bean dip, make lentil soup or add peas to a grain dish. If you have a hard time digesting these foods, don’t worry, there’s a solution! Taking digestive enzymes right before your first bite will help break down the complex carbohydrates that can be responsible of the discomfort.

Grains

Fiber-containing grains, especially whole grains, are healthy for your heart, blood sugar, and blood pressure and they can help you maintain a healthy weight. Plus, whole grains contain a variety of nutrients, filling fiber and some even contain protein.

 

What to choose: Include a serving of whole grains at every meal. Try quinoa oatmeal, add barley to a vegetable soup or swap your regular wrap for a whole-grain sandwich.

Olive oil

Unlike saturated fat present in butter, the monounsaturated fat in olive oil is heart-healthy, as it helps supports healthy cholesterol levels, and it also is a good source of vitamin E, an important antioxidant.

 

What to choose:  The highest quality of olive oil is extra virgin because it is produced without any solvents and under temperatures that do not degrade it.  Extra virgin olive oil offers a more pronounced flavor of fresh olive.  It’s a good idea to include olive oil in your meals by using it to roast a batch of root vegetables or to cook your fish.  It can also be used with an oil mister to spray on your salad or cooking pan. 

Nuts and seeds

Like olive oil, nuts and seeds are good sources of monounsaturated fat. Nuts and seeds also contain magnesium, potassium, vitamin B6 and fiber, which can help ward off hunger. Some nuts and seeds, including walnuts, ground flaxseeds and chia seeds, also contain omega-3 fatty acids.

 

What to choose: Nuts and seeds are nutritional powerhouses but if you’re prone to mindless munching, the calories can add up fast. One serving is 2 tablespoons and should fit in the palm of your hand. You can sprinkle chia seeds into a smoothie or mix them in yogurt, have a handful of almonds as a snack or add sunflower seeds to a salad.

Wine

The jury is still out but studies suggest that wine in moderation may be good for your cholesterol and your heart,  reportedly due to resveratrol, which is a polyphenol in grape skin and a type of antioxidant.

 

What to choose: Wine is optional in the Mediterranean diet but if you do include it, do so in moderation!  Keep it to one 4-ounce glass of wine with dinner; it can be 2 on special occasions!

 

The Mediterranean diet also features eggs, cheese, yogurt, red meat and sweets but they are all to be consumed in moderation to keep things balanced.

 

Lastly, make sure to add plenty of fresh herbs and spices to your meals, try new recipes, enjoy your glass of wine and even a piece of dark chocolate once in a while!  Your overall body and heart will thank you!

 

 

[1] Gu Y, Brickman AM, Stern Y, Habeck CG, Razlighi QR, Luchsinger JA, Manly JJ, Schupf N, Mayeux R, Scarmeas N. Mediterranean diet and brain structure in a multiethnic elderly cohort. Neurology 2015 Nov 17; 85(20):1744-51.  doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000002121. Epub 2015 Oct 21

[2] Martínez-Lapiscina EH, Clavero P, Toledo E, Estruch R, Salas-Salvadó J, San Julián B, Sanchez-Tainta A, Ros E, Valls-Pedret C, Martinez-Gonzalez MÁ. Mediterranean diet improves cognition: the PREDIMED-NAVARRA randomised trial. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2013 Dec;84(12):1318-25. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2012-304792.

[3] American College of Cardiology. Legumes Improve Blood Sugar Control and Reduce Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetics. October 26, 2012. Accessible at:https://www.cardiosmart.org/News-and-Events/2012/10/Legumes-improve-blood-sugar-control-and-reduce-cardiovascular-risk-in-diabetics