NUTRITION: Mediterranean diet keeps its place at the top

The foundation of the Mediterranean Diet is vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and olive oil. Seafood is consumed about twice per week. Poultry, eggs and dairy are consumed occasionally while red meat and sweets are rarely consumed. Water and wine are the most consumed beverages.

Here are some ways to make your diet Mediterranean.

• At every meal, make sure at least half of your plate is filled with vegetables and fruits. Double the amount of vegetables in soup, stew and hotdish recipes. Make sure pizza and pasta dishes are filled with vegetables. Add extra vegetables to your lunchtime sandwich. Get creative with salads and use a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Carry fruits and vegetables along for snacks. Instead of a baked item for dessert, try grilled fruit or a smoothie. Remember, frozen and canned count!

• Switch to heart healthy oils. Olive oil and canola oil are comprised of monounsaturated fats. These fats can reduce our LDL “bad” cholesterol and may even help increase HDL “good” cholesterol. Reduce your use of saturated fats like butter and fatty meats.

• Rethink your protein. Remember, vegetables and whole grains are the foundation. Try to go vegetarian once or twice per week. If you do have meat, think of it more as a side dish or garnish, not the centerpiece. Use more plant based proteins like beans and nuts. Add beans to salads, tacos, soups, stews and hotdishes. Make dips and spreads like hummus to have with your sliced vegetables or on your sandwich. Sprinkle nuts on your morning cereal. Add a crunch to salads, soups, pastas and vegetables.

• Make your grains whole. Whole grains that are frequently used in Mediterranean cuisine include barley, buckwheat, bulger, farro, millet, oats, polenta, rice, wheat berries and whole grain couscous and pasta. For breakfast, top yogurt with whole grain granola, toast whole grains bread or have oatmeal. For lunch and dinner, add grains like bulgur or barley to your salad, use whole grain bread or pita for your sandwiches, create pasta dishes using whole grain pasta, make a pizza with whole grain crust, and for a new side dish try a rice pilaf or creamy polenta.

• Be mindful of beverages. Water is the main beverage consumed. Wine is consumed regularly but in low to moderate amounts.

There is more to the Mediterranean diet than just food. The Mediterranean diet is sometimes referred to the Mediterranean lifestyle because it also emphasizes physical activity and social interactions. Nutrition is very difficult to study because there are always outside factors influencing the study. While the science on the nutritional benefits of the Mediterranean Diet is sound, there is also the influence of an active lifestyle and emphasis on social interactions which cannot be ignored. Increased activity and strong social connections are also proven to be key factors to health.

Brenda Schwerdt, RDN, LD, CNSC, is a clinical dietitian at St. Luke’s hospital. Contact her at dietitian@slhduluth.com.

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