May is International Mediterranean Diet Month, making it is a good time to learn more about the health benefits of this way of eating for you and your family! We can all start renovating our eating habits and recipes for our health!
The Mediterranean Diet is based on the food traditions of those people living around the Mediterranean Sea, especially Crete, Greece and Southern Italy. It incorporates some lean proteins, fish, olives and olive oil, vegetables, fruit, healthy grains, nuts and seeds.
The foods represented in this diet contribute to the longevity associated with the people in this region but so does physical activity, being socially engaged with people and community, and sharing meals with many. Life is a social endeavor, in addition to eating and drinking certain foods grown naturally in the region. Red wine in moderation and water are beverages of choice.
Many health benefits are attributed by researchers to this way of eating, including heart health, brain health and longevity.
Incorporating Mediterranean Foods in Your Family’s Diet
Because this way of eating relies heavily on plant-based nutrition sources, a meal plan heavy in fruits, vegetables, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds will make up the majority of food items. Meats are limited and often fish is the protein choice due to its availability. Red meats are not often consumed more than once, or perhaps a few times, a month.
The foods from this region are largely locally produced and eaten in season at the height of nutritional value. In general, processed foods are not a part of the meal plan. Olive oil is the fat of choice, replacing other types including butter. Dairy is included but often in the form of yogurt and low fat cheese.
Due to the inclusion of fish and olive oil as the primary contributors of fat, the saturated fat content of the diet is often less than eight percent of the total calories. Incorporating herbs and spices for flavor, without the salt and other additives of processing, keeps the meals fresh and tasty.
You can make small changes to your meals to begin adopting some of these health approaches.
- When you eat meals including meat, reduce the portion you are eating to three to four ounces. Use meat in strips or chunks as part of a salad, pasta dish or casserole instead of highlighting them as the star of the plate. Lean protein sources, such as skinless poultry, beans, nuts and seafood, can replace the more saturated meats in our current diet.
- Eat more seafood. Seafood should be on the menu at least twice a week. You can broil or grill a fish fillet, add shellfish such as shrimp or clams, poach salmon and use tuna and sardines for added benefits of omega 3 fatty acids. Avoid fried seafood.
- Eat vegetables at every meal. Salads, veggie blends, stir fry, and side dishes are good ways to fill your plate with vegetables. Add chopped veggies or greens to a breakfast omelet. Sliced tomatoes with feta cheese and an olive oil drizzle, sprinkled with fresh basil, will be a show stopper! Add vegetables to the meals you already make, such as casserole, cooked salad, pasta and even pizza! Snack on crisp vegetables and add a feta cheese or hummus dip. Don’t forget beans soups loaded with veggies!
- Eat every meal without skipping. Be sure to eat whole grains to help keep you full.
- Enjoy fresh fruits in season as a dessert, appetizer or part of your meal. Apple and pear wedges, orange sections and grapes added to salads, chicken salad and as snacks can add a refreshing punch to your plate! Make fruit sorbet and homemade popsicles for a refreshing and sweet treat to fight the heat! Keep fresh fruit available and clean ready to eat for a grab and go snack.
- Substitute olive oil for the fats you currently use. Whether cooking, baking, making salad dressings or marinades, you can slowly reduce your current sources of oil and butter with a healthier fat.
- Don’t leave out the dairy. Choose sources such as feta cheese, Greek yogurt and other cheeses to get the calcium you need without the added fat.
- Whole grains make the meal. Change up your pasta and rice to whole grain versions, eat oatmeal with your breakfast using a fruit topper, whole grain breads and rolls with an olive oil/balsamic vinegar dip instead of butter, and try grains that aren’t as familiar such as quinoa and barley. Added to soup or as a side dish will boost the fiber and nutrients.
- Reduce the processed foods you now use in favor of whole foods and more in-home cooking. With a little planning you can replace many pre-made meals with more nutritious and definitely delicious meals your family will love.
- Snack on nuts, trail mixes you concoct yourself using dried fruits, seeds like pumpkin and sunflower and a variety of nuts will be a crowd-pleaser. Your family will love the break from the usual chips!
- Be mindful when you eat. Savor each bite, put down the utensil and talk with your dinner companions. Meals are moments to mingle and enjoy those around you in addition to the meal itself. Taking time to enjoy will also allow you to listen to your bodies’ cues of fullness so you don’t overindulge. It’s a lifestyle not just a plate!
Recipe Renovation – Let’s Go Med!
When you start to enjoy the flavors of the Mediterranean, your tried and true recipes begin to say ‘blah’! But you can spice them up with a few easy fixes that will make them sing!
Here are a few suggestions for renovations.
|Instead of:||Try using:|
|Potato Salad with mayonnaise||Roasted Potato Blend with roasted veggies, olive oil and fresh herbs (See Photo)|
|Macaroni Salad with mayonnaise||Greek Pasta Salad - baslamic vinaigrette, feta cheese, black olives|
|Spreads like margarine & butter||Tahini (sesame seed spread), hummus, natural peanut butter|
|Honey roasted nuts||Dry roasted nuts|
|Salt||Herbs & spices, fresh when possible|
|Ricotta cheese||Lower fat cottage, feta and mozzarella cheese, Greek yogurt|
|Pepperoni pizza||Pizza with feta, sliced tomatoes, grilled eggplant & fresh basil|
Try experimenting with your family favorites to see what changes you can make to go Med!
If you have a recipe you would like to share that we can renovate, please send it via our contact page.
We would love to renovate your recipe today to make it delicious and nutritious and a new family favorite!