The Mediterranean Diet – A Tasty Way of Living! - North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System
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The Mediterranean Diet – A Tasty Way of Living!

Heart shape by various vegetables and fruits with a white background.
By Mariel Hensley, MSH RD LD/N
Monday, March 4, 2013

“Diet” in the original, Latin sense of the word “diaeta,” actually means: “A way of living,” which is exactly what the Mediterranean diet is, a way of living.  This month another study was published further strengthening the compelling evidence touting the many health benefits of the Mediterranean diet:  increased longevity, enhanced brain function, decreased risk of some cancers, defense against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, decreased risk of diabetes and several other diseases.  This particular study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that the group following the Mediterranean diet pattern supplemented with olive oil had 30% risk reduction of death from heart attacks and strokes.

Studies haven’t been able to isolate any single part of this diet to attribute all of these health benefits too, but some of the main features of the Mediterranean “Way of Living” are:

Whole grains, vegetables and fruits are the staples of this diet.

  • High in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.

Olive oil is the major source of fat.

  • High in mono-unsaturated fat, helps replace saturated fat and control cholesterol levels by reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol and possibly increasing HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • Rich in anti-oxidants/phytochemicals, which act as a natural anti-inflammatory, combating the many chronic diseases that are associated with inflammation.

Nuts, beans, legumes and seeds are vital parts of this diet.

  • Rich in fiber to aid with bowel regularity, thus potentially decreasing risk of cancers of the digestive tract.
  • Provide a vegetarian source of protein, as well as adding great texture and flavor to many dishes.

Red meat is only eaten sparingly and in small portions.

  • Many other studies have also shown that higher red meat intake is associated with higher risk of death from heart disease, cancer or diabetes.

Wine is consumed regularly, but always in moderation.

  • If you drink, moderation is defined as up to one 5oz glass of wine per day for women and up to two 5oz glasses for men.
  • Wine is very rich in the heart-protective anti-oxidant resveratrol. Grape juice and cocoa powder, and dark chocolate are also good sources of this anti-oxidant.

Seafood is an important protein source.

  • Aim to include low-mercury fish in your diet 2-3 times a week.
  • Contributes omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to be a natural anti-inflammatory, heart protective and playing a beneficial role in brain health.

Spice things up!

  • Using dried spices and herbs helps add a lot of flavor and anti-oxidants to food, while also making it easier to scale back on added salt, thus improving blood pressure.

Some of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet are also related to what this diet lacks:  large amounts of highly processed and refined carbohydrates, processed meats (i.e. sausages, and deli meats,) trans fats from processed foods and sugar sweetened beverages; which are sadly all staples of the standard American diet (SAD).

Cooking is an essential part of following a Mediterranean diet pattern.  However, novice cooks do not need to be scared; many delicious dishes can be created by simply using fresh seasonal ingredients and adding a touch of olive oil, garlic, citrus, herbs and spices.

Recipe:

Chickpea Salad with Feta and Basil

  • 1 x 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Half a red onion, finely diced
  • Half a large cucumber, finely diced  (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup of jarred roasted bell peppers, coarsely chopped (may substitute fresh) 
  • 1/2 cup low-fat crumbled feta
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed or minced
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves, chopped (may substitute 1/2 bunch fresh parsley)
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon, may substitute with 4 Tbsp bottled lemon juice or red wine vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1.  Mix lemon juice, zest, garlic, spices and olive oil, whip or shake in a jar to combine.
2.  Add all of the vegetables, beans and feta to a bowl, gently toss with the prepared dressing.

Nutrition Information
Yield: 6 x 1 cup serving
Per serving: 170 calories, 10g fat (mostly from healthy olive oil), 293mg Sodium, 15g carbohydrates, 5g fiber, 7g protein

On March 7, 2013 in the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center Auditorium, Nutrition Service will host a Nutrition Fair from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  Food samples, healthy cooking demos, healthy recipes, and lots of other nutrition and wellness information will be provided.  All employees, visitors and Veterans are encouraged to attend.

Resources:
The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook by Nancy Harmon Jenkins
The Oldways Table, by K. Dun Gifford
New England Journal of Medicine. "Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet." Ramon Estruch, M.D., Ph.D. 25 February 2013.

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