These parts of a healthy diet remain true but changing the oil you cook with, adding more beans and legumes to your diet and even enjoying an occasional glass of red wine may make a difference in your risk of heart disease and lower your risk for lung, breast, colon, prostate and pancreatic cancers. Here are tips for following the Mediterranean Diet and Lifestyle.
- Read the Nutrition Facts label. Look for the total amount of carbohydrates and be sure to notice the serving amount that is indicated. If you need help understanding how to read labels, consider meeting with a dietitian or visiting FDA.gov/food.
- Eat Breakfast. Consider starting your day with steel cut oats. Buy organic oats and be sure they are free of sugar add-ins and flavorings. Steel cut oats are coarsely chopped and less processed than rolled oats, making them have a lower glycemic index.
- Consume more monosaturated fats than saturated fats. Saturated fats come mainly from animal sources (dairy, red meat and poultry). Monosaturated fats are found in many foods and oils such as olive oil and avocados. Studies have shown that eating foods rich in monosaturated fats improve blood cholesterol levels.
- Shop your local farmers’ market. Buying local not only supports small businesses and independent farmers, it also lowers the amount of synthetic chemical pesticides you consume. For hundreds of years, the working class in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Ocean ate only what they could catch on land or in the sea and grow on their farms. Fish was easier to come by and so they consumed less red meat. By doing this they exercised daily and ate a balanced diet.
- Choose olive oil. Olive oil’s monosaturated fatty acids can help lower cholesterol levels and balance blood sugars. It also contains anti-inflammatory properties, which helps reduce inflammation. When buying olive oil, look for Extra Virgin in a dark green glass and consume the bottle within a year. After a year many of the nutrition properties are lost.
- Spice it up! Adding spices and herbs to foods you prepare adds flavoring to your dish without the calories. Consider using spices and herbs popular in the Mediterranean such as basil, cloves, bay leaves, mint, fennel and pepper.
- Switch up your snacks. Snacking on low-fat dairy and nuts instead of processed snack foods is a great way to eat whole foods. Try plain Greek yogurt or almonds.
- Rethink dessert. Dessert doesn’t have to be full of sugar and saturated fats. Next time you’re in the mood for a sweet, slice up an avocado and blend with unsweetened dark cacao powder, vanilla extract, coconut milk and cinnamon. You’ll get a creamy pudding and keep your blood sugars sensitive.
- Have a glass of red. Consider inviting your friends over for a glass of wine – you’ll have the laughs and red wine, both good for your heart.
- Boost your exercise. Physical activity five days a week for thirty minutes a day is recommended by many physicians.
Sources: The Cardiovascular Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet and Lifestyle presentation by Dr. Neal Scott, February 10, 2016, MayoClinic.org, Health.gov