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The Mediterranean Diet: Eat Your Way to Better Health (Including a special giveaway!)

By Sheryl Kraft

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Is it any coincidence that the Italian greeting “Ciao!” is pronounced like our English word for "eat up": chow?

Perhaps I'm reaching here.

But I just returned last week from a wonderful trip to Italy, soaking up all the local culture—from visiting churches that still stand beyond any imaginable expectations to experiencing the popular drink, the Spritz (a yummy drink made from Prosecco, Aperol and club soda; see the recipe here). I'm still basking in the experience, feeling a whole lot more enriched by the grandeur and beauty of the country and the relaxed pace of the Italians—with the taste of the incredibly fresh and wholesome food lingering on my palate.

Gotta love that healthy Mediterranean style of eating: a healthy meal enjoyed surrounded by family and friends—incomparable.

I've always been a devotee of healthy eating. Vegetables? I love them all (with the possible exception of okra. Anyone out there to convince me it's good?). I never met a watermelon, nectarine or piece of fruit I didn't like. Fish, with its tender, succulent flesh and earthy flavor, pleases my palate more than does beef. And grains (farro's my fave) and beans (yum, chickpeas) of all kinds win my affection. A handful of nuts here, a glass of red wine there, and I'm happy.

Turns out it's no accident that the Mediterranean diet has been lauded for being a genuinely healthy way of eating. It incorporates all the basics of healthy eating: fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains. Add some olive oil and you're onto something.

Not only has research shown the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, but it's also proven to reduce the incidence of cancer and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

Here's how it works. Imagine a pyramid. At the top (the smallest portion) are meats and sweets. Below that, poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt, which should be eaten in moderate portions, daily to weekly. Fish and seafood enjoy a wider berth; eat them often (at least two times a week). And then the pyramid opens up to bring in fruits, veggies, grains (mostly whole), olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs and spices. Every meal you eat should be based on these foods.

What changes can you make in your diet to move closer to the Mediterranean style of eating?

  • Eat primarily plant-based foods (like fruits and vegetables), whole grains, legumes and nuts.
  • Replace butter with healthy fats, like olive oil (but remember: it may be healthy, but watch your quantities: 1 tablespoon has 119 calories).
  • Replace salt with herbs and spices to flavor foods.
  • Limit red meat consumption to a few times a month. Make sure it's lean and keep the portions small. Avoid high-fat processed meats like bacon and sausage.
  • Eat fish and poultry at least twice each week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, mackerel, trout and herring are healthy options.
  • Make your grains whole grains. They contain all the essential parts and nutrients of the entire grain seed.
  • Drink red wine in moderation; no more than 5 ounces daily for women of all ages. (Teetotalers: this is totally optional! Grape juice and fresh grapes provide the same protective antioxidants found in wine.)
  • Eat bread either plain or dipped in olive oil—not smeared with butter or margarine.
  • Enjoy nuts but watch the quantity—though most of the fat in them is healthy, they do contain a lot of calories. Eat no more than a handful a day. Stay away from heavily salted, candied or honey-roasted varieties.
  • Include veggies and fruits in every meal. They also make easy and nutritious snacks between meals.
  • Make your dairy low fat. Switch to skim or fat-free milk and yogurt and low-fat cheeses.

If you're curious about incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle, here's a gift to you. Leave a comment below, and one reader's name will be chosen at random to win The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, published by Idiot's Guides and written by Denise “DedeMed” Hazime, who teaches how to cook through easy instructional videos on her website, DedeMed.com. This handy cookbook includes over 200 recipes and is a terrific guide to get you on the road to better and more balanced health through easy and fun methods. I can't wait to try the Bulgur Chickpea Pilaf!

Contest closes at 5 p.m. Friday, May 30. If I email you that you're the winner and you fail to respond to the notification within 48 hours, you'll make someone else very happy, because a new winner will be chosen.

Ciao (which also means bye) and mangia, mangia! (Eat, eat!)

More on the topic:
5 Reasons to Love Peanuts
5 Steps to a Heart-Healthy Diet
A NEW Health Benefit to Drinking Wine

Visit Sheryl Kraft's blog at http://mysocalledmidlife.net/.

Comments

I love eating Mediterranean style- it's so much healthier. Great cookbook giveaway-would love to get it .
Estelle

To me, it's not just healthier - it tastes lighter, fresher and better!

Sheryl,I cannot imagine a more inspirational setting than Italy to soak up a true Mediterranean approach to eating. Thanks for all of the tips - very helpful! (Mary Dell)

Yes, Mary Dell, inspirational is a perfect word! Glad the tips are helpful.

I am very interested in reading your book, and moving closer to the Mediterranean diet.

Thanks for your comment, Michele, and so glad to hear this healthy way of eating is of interest to you~

I love the Mediterranean diet and would be very interested in this book. It's a great way to eat and stay healthy. Thanks for sharing this important information with us.

Thanks for your comment, Cathy - sounds like you're already eating the Mediterranean way?

Love everything about Italy, Sheryl...especially their way of eating. I had been eating only fat-free dairy, but recently read that 2% is sometimes better for you, so I eat it sparingly. Great article!

Me, too, Mindy. It's a country I can go back to time and time again.

This cookbooks sounds great. I'm a big drinker of grape juice and love that it gives the same bennies as wine (which I'm less of a fan of).

I remember drinking - and liking - a lot of grape juice as a child. Now, I go for the wine :) - sparingly, of course.

I was told if you eat food that grows from the land, flies or swims, making sure your diet is colorful. You'll live a healthy life

So true, Bobbie - nix all the processed stuff. I also heard Deepak Chopra once say he never eats anything in a wrapper.

Fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and wine....what more do we need (other than chocolate and cheesecake?) Can't wait to see the cookbook.

I'm with you on the chocolate (dark) and cheesecake (Italian) - love them both~

I always return from trips to Italy, France, or Greece determined to live as they do. Their healthy, delicious, and relaxed meals top my to-do list.

Me, too, Ruth. The food here just never tastes as good as I remember it on vacation!

Just reading this has made me hungry.

So, did you have a healthy snack after reading it, Connie? C'mon, tell.

Great article! I am going to begin planning meals around fresh grains, veggies and herbs and spices, woohoo!

Thanks for stopping by, Kathy. Glad to hear your meals are trending healthy!

Great tips. This type of diet is so healthy and really so easy to do also.

I agree, Brette. If it's easy, I think it's more likely that people will be willing to try it, don't you?

Fabulous tips here, Sheryl. I always have good intentions of eating in a healthier way... but I fail miserably much of the time. Thank you for the reminder to do better.

(Oh, by the way, I do love okra. Alas, only if it's fried, though.) :-D

Fried okra - okay, maybe that'll help me get over my inability to like it!?

I think if more people in this country ate the Mediterranean way, we'd be a healthier lot. Great tips all around!

Nice post. I think at some point of time, all of us would eventually switch to these kind of diet plans for healthy living. My vote for veggies and grains!
http://cabbage.recipes/

I work in a medical office and along with myself there are 3other ladies and we started the diet. Our thing is just knowing the portions we can have and trying to find different recipes to try. I would love to have this cookbook to give us some more ideas.

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