Why did the chef add more oregano to the sauce? He was making up for lost thyme….
Okay, okay, I know. :) But, as I settle into my kitchen to prepare my favorite dish, I can’t help but feel playful and elated. This is a dish I could literally eat every day: chicken breast sautéed in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, capers, wilted spinach, and Kalamata olives tossed in (gluten free) whole-grain pasta. And I have learned that by eating it, I may actually be contributing to my heart health. Quite a bonus!
A study conducted by the Mayo clinic reported:
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. In fact, a meta-analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality as well as overall mortality.
And this is despite the fact that the diet derives more than 35% of its calories from fat!
Another study published in The New England Journal of Medicine compared a low-calorie, Mediterranean-style diet to a low-carbohydrate diet and found it to be just as effective for weight loss and helping to control blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.
And, as if these compelling reasons weren’t enough, a Mediterranean-style diet is just plain delicious! Besides my lemon garlic chicken recipe above, you may be wondering what other foods are part of the Mediterranean diet.
Well, to better understand and identify the food staples and cooking styles of this region, we first need to consider the area we’re talking about. Technically speaking, Mediterranean countries are those that surround the Mediterranean Sea. These include: Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, and Libya, among others.
And while there is quite a variation in these countries culturally, as far as food goes, there are some common denominators. Think seafood, fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.
5 Ways to Start a Mediterranean-Style Diet Today
1. Eat the fat.
Don’t be afraid of healthy fat. The Mediterranean diet replaces butter with olive oil or canola oil. Stay away from saturated and trans fats and go for the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that contain those wonderful omega-3 fatty acids—you know, the kinds found in olive oil, nuts, canola oil, and fatty fish (e.g., mackerel, sardines, tuna, and salmon). Personally, I prefer olive oil and would only use canola as a last option for this diet.
2. Eat the fruits and veggies.
These natural carbs and sugars should comprise the majority of your diet. Eating organic is best (especially on food that you don’t peel), so you can avoid a majority of those nasty pesticides that are being sprayed directly on the crops.
3. Drink the wine
For one who is fond of drinking wine (very fond, like me), the fact that wine is linked to good health is music to my ears! In the Mediterranean diet, wine and water are the drinks of choice. According to The Importance of Wine in the Mediterranean Diet - For Dummies, “The cardio protection red wine provides is attributed to the antioxidants from flavonoids found in the skin of the grapes. The flavonoids reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering bad cholesterol, increasing good cholesterol, and reducing blood clotting.” So bottoms up (in moderation of course!).
4. Take a walk.
Exercise is a big part of the Mediterranean lifestyle (and given all the wine being consumed, it’s probably a good thing!). As Americans, we tend to drive everywhere, partly because there is more distance between the places we go every day. Even though I know how important daily exercise is, I find it so challenging to build it into a life filled with work, family, and socializing.
One of the benefits of living in the Mediterranean is that walking is pretty much built into the culture. Daily life involves the need to walk to get the things needed to live. It would be nice if our culture had some of that!
Instead, most of us have to figure out how to squeeze exercise into our lives. One suggestion I have is to simply look for opportunities to walk rather than drive. Park further away from your destination, and walk to it; take the stairs instead of the elevator; pack your lunch and spend 30 minutes of your lunch break walking, and 30 minutes eating. As those in the Mediterranean know, exercise is not only good for your body, it’s good for your mind too.
I hope this encourages you to give the Mediterranean lifestyle a go!