I got a call recently from two readers, neither of whom was familiar with the Mediterranean diet.
Both were interested in information about its health benefits. For anyone still not sure how to implement such a diet into his or her lifestyle, I assure you it’s not difficult, and you’ll reap the benefits, especially regarding heart health — and weight loss.
Having said that, your grocery cart will look very different: Americans would have to adjust the balance of protein (less) to vegetables (more), cut out refined sugar and white flour, and halt the love affair with butter.
The Mayo Clinic says the traditional Mediterranean-style diet, which is the way of eating in Greece, Crete and southern Italy, is characterized by:
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▪ Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
▪ Replacing butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil and canola oil
▪ Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
▪ Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
▪ Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
▪ Enjoying meals with family and friends
▪ Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
▪ Getting plenty of exercise
The Mediterranean eating style is widely recognized as the gold standard for optimum health, endorsed by the Harvard School of Public Health, the World Health Organization and the Mayo Clinic.
Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. The diet has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol that’s more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.
According to the Mayo Clinic, an analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults showed that when they followed a Mediterranean diet, there was a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality, as well as overall mortality.
The diet is also associated with a reduction in cancer, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer, the clinic reported.
There is a world of information about the Mediterranean diet online, including recipes. Check out authoritynutrition.com/mediterranean-diet-meal-plan and health.com (search for Mediterranean diet). There is also an excellent explanation about the diet and its origins in a 2009 New York Times story called “Confusion about Mediterranean cuisine.”
Some information provided by the Kansas City Star, Detroit Free Press and the Chicago Tribune.
Mediterranean diet sample menu
- Yogurt parfait made by layering fat-free plain Greek yogurt with blueberries or strawberries. One teaspoon honey optional. Or, top a 100 percent whole-wheat English muffin with one tablespoon almond or peanut butter and a cup of blueberries or strawberries.
- Water (best option) or a 1/2-cup juice. One cup coffee or green tea.
- Apple, orange or pear.
- Spinach and kale salad with a wide variety of colored vegetables, dressed with balsamic vinaigrette and topped with either walnuts and feta cheese or chicken breast. Add a small slice of 100 percent whole-grain bread or pita.
- Sparkling water with slice of lemon or lime.
- Handful of almonds, green tea.
- Grilled salmon, 1/4 cup of quinoa with rosemary and pine nuts, grilled cauliflower/broccoli/carrots drizzled with olive oil. Add a spinach and kale side salad with vegetables and balsamic vinaigrette.
- One glass of wine, if desired. Sparkling water with slice of lemon or lime. Dessert would be sliced fresh fruit.
Dr. Stephen Devries, executive director of the Gaples Institute in Deerfield, Ill., which promotes the value of nutrition and natural strategies in medical care.
Grilled Shrimp with Vegetable Bread Salad
1 1/2 pounds fresh or frozen extra-large shrimp
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, peeled, finely minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons snipped fresh Italian parsley
3 tablespoons olive oil
6-inch wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes
1/2 whole grain baguette
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup halved kalamata olives
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil oil
Thaw shrimp, if frozen. Peel and devein, leaving tails intact if desired. Rinse shrimp and pat dry. Thread three shrimp on each skewer, leaving 1/4-inch between them. Place shrimp skewers on a sided baking sheet or in a pan.
In a small bowl, stir together the lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, parsley and olive oil. Brush all over the shrimp. Let the shrimp sit about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Meanwhile, prepare the bread salad. Cut the baguette into 1/2-inch cubes and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Place in the oven until lightly browned and toasted, about 15 minutes.
Place the cubes in a bowl, add the tomatoes, olives, red onion and parsley. Drizzle with vinegar and olive oil. Toss to coat. Let sit 15 minutes.
Preheat the grill to medium. Grill shrimp about 5 to 8 minutes or until shrimp are opaque, turning once. Remove from the grill.
Serve shrimp on platter with the bread salad on the side.
Yield: 4 servings.
From and tested by Susan Selasky for the Detroit Free Press Test Kitchen
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 cups torn mixed lettuce (romaine and iceberg leaves)
2 tomatoes, seeded and sliced into thin wedges
1/2 cup sliced cucumber
2 tablespoons pepperoncini, rinsed and well drained
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 to 2 tablespoons fat-free feta cheese
Olive garnish, optional
Whisk together olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, oregano, salt and pepper. Set aside and allow to stand at room temperature 10 minutes.
Place lettuce in salad bowl. Top with tomatoes, cucumber, pepperoncini and red onion. Drizzle with dressing and toss to coat evenly. Sprinkle with feta cheese.
Per serving (without olives): 59 calories, 3 grams total fat, trace cholesterol, 6 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 109 mg sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Makes 6 servings.
Mediterranean Pasta Salad
8 ounces multigrain farfalle
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 13.5- ounce can artichoke hearts packed in water, drained and chopped
8 ounces fresh part-skim mozzarella cheese, chopped
1/4 cup chopped bottled roasted red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup frozen peas
1. Cook pasta according to package instructions, omitting salt and fat.
2. While pasta cooks, combine zest and juice of 1 lemon and 2 teaspoons olive oil in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add artichoke hearts, cheese, bell pepper, and parsley; toss to combine.
3. Place peas in a colander; when pasta is cooked, drain pasta over peas. Shake well to drain, but do not run under cold water. Add pasta and peas to artichoke mixture, and toss well until thoroughly combined. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Per serving: 420 calories, 20 grams fat, 20 grams protein, 50 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams fiber, 45 mg cholesterol, 200 mg sodium.
Yield: 4 servings.
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 (6-ounce) skinless salmon fillets (about 1 inch thick)
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup finely chopped zucchini
2 tablespoons capers, undrained
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (2 1/4-ounce) can sliced ripe olives, drained
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Sprinkle salt and pepper over both sides of fish. Place fish in a single layer in an 11- by 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Combine tomatoes and remaining ingredients in a bowl; spoon mixture over fish. Bake 22 minutes.
Per serving (1 fillet and 1/2 cup vegetable mixture): 339 calories, 18 grams fat, 37 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 87 mg cholesterol, 424 mg sodium.
Yield: 4 servings.
1 (12-inch) prepared pizza crust
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1 cup (4 ounces) crumbled goat cheese
3 sliced plum tomatoes (1/4-inch-thick slices)
6 chopped pitted kalamata olives
1 (14-ounce) can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or 4 teaspoons dried basil
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Sprinkle the pizza crust with crushed red pepper and dried Italian seasoning.
3. Sprinkle the crumbled goat cheese evenly on the crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Using the back of a spoon, gently press the cheese down on the pizza crust.
4. Arrange the plum tomato slices, chopped olives and quartered artichoke hearts on the pizza as desired.
5. Place the pizza on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, and bake 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and the cheese is bubbly. Sprinkle the chopped basil over the top and serve hot.
Per serving: 291 calories, 11 grams fat, 14 grams protein, 34 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 13 mg cholesterol, 654 mg sodium.
Yield: 4 servings.