Bringing the Mediterranean home

Over the years, the word diet has come to mean an eating pattern that will likely leave you feeling deprived.  But in fact, it really refers to whatever it is that you eat. The Mediterranean diet is a perfect example.  It signifies the eating regime  identified back in the 1950s when American  scientist Ancel Keys discovered its health-promoting properties.

ee-MedPyramid_612x792The concept, though, of the healthy Mediterranean diet seemed to stay in the research lab until 1993 when together with the Harvard School of Public Health, the Boston-based think-tank Oldways Exchange Trust released the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.   Only a few dozen studies on the diet had been published at that point.
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But since the publication of the pyramid, scientists became intrigued and there have been almost 1900 scientific investigations into the Mediterranean diet. And this does not include specific aspects of it such as the research on olive oil.

Researchers have examined  all the aspects of the Mediterranean diet  to determine just how the dietary pattern can be linked to such a wide assortment of health perks.  Besides the more common study topics of heart disease, cognitive function and certain  cancers, researchers  have even observed an improvement in erectile dysfunction with a Mediterranean-style diet.

The past  few decades or so have seen nutrition mantras go from fat phobia to fat smart eating and from shunning carbs to selecting those with maximum nutritional perks. And during this time, one group, Oldways Preservation Trust has been the most influential. This Boston-based think tank changed how North Americans eat. Bringing the Mediterranean diet from scientific journals into people’s homes and increasing awareness and availability of whole grains are just a few of the feathers in Oldways’ cap.

But you don’t have to be in the sunny Med region to enjoy its health perks (but it would certainly be very nice right about now!). Importing a Mediterranean style eating pattern across the Atlantic into your own home can be a pleasurable task indeed.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

•    Redesign your dinner plate.  Shift the focus to a variety of vegetables and   whole grains,  making the meat a garnish rather than the centerpiece.

•    Incorporate legumes, like chick peas, lentils and kidney beans, on a regular basis. Add them to salads, pasta sauces or enjoy them in dips. And go for canned varieties if you like. Simply rinse them well to lower sodium counts.

•    Go for  monounsaturated fats over others. Instead of sautéing foods in butter or spreads, use extra virgin olive oil.  It’s interesting to note that research shows better antioxidant absorption from foods such as tomatoes when they are consumed with olive oil rather than oils such as safflower.

Eating your veggies with a splash of olive oil, besides making it taste delicious,  also enhances absorption of fat-soluble nutrients compared when vegetable are eaten bare.

•    Change your drinking style, if necessary. Unlike in North America,  in the Mediterranean, drinking wine on its own is not an activity. It’s always consumed with food. And instead of larger amounts on weekends,  moderation on a regular basis is the norm.  But don’t start drinking for the health of it.

•    Spice it up: The palate-pleasing seasonings of the Med diet,such as  garlic, and herbs, not only liven up dishes but also offer a wide assortment of disease-fighting compounds.  So don’t eat your broccoli bare. Toss it in a little garlic-scented olive oil, sprinkle it with chopped parsley and lemon and enjoy.

Consider  getting a copy of the Oldways 4-Week Mediterranean Diet Menu Plan to help you bring the Med diet to your kitchen. The guide is packed with an assortment of goodies such as cooking basics, how to stock your pantry, simple  recipes and substitutions, meal ideas and tips scattered throughout and a menu plan.

Coming up I will be looking at cooking with extra virgin olive oil versus coconut oil.
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Have you brought the Mediterranean to your kitchen? Please share how you have done so in the comment section below.

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Categories: Tips and Tricks, Whole Foods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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