Many of us probably made the common New Year’s resolution to eat better this year! Especially with COVID-19 lingering around, we understand how vital it is to improve our overall health. But how are we to implement that? What diet to pick? There are so many options out there. Debi Bernish, a Health & Wellness Advocate with a B.S. in Nutrition and Food Science is sharing one popular and successful option with us in her guest blog post today.
Nutrient-dense foods make a tasty, healthy eating plan.
The new year has arrived with many advertisements and programs for a “new healthier you.” Unless you have a background in nutrition and have the time to invest in looking at the benefits of the different programs, it may just seem overwhelming and not worth your time. That may be a justification for many people to continue their current eating plan, even though they would genuinely like to feel better about what they were eating. Eating healthier is easier than you think, and simply stated: less is more. Fewer ingredients, more nutrients.
Some of the healthiest people in the world follow the Mediterranean Diet. Year after year, the Mediterranean diet comes out on top in the U.S. News and World Report annual ranking of best diets. A panel of experts judges various eating plans and popular diets on criteria, including how healthy they are, how well they work, and how easy they are to follow. The Mediterranean diet is also touted as one of the healthiest by many health organizations and dietitians, including the American Heart Association. ¹
The most important thing is to focus on your diet’s overall quality rather than single nutrients or foods. Try to include more nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and lean proteins. Limit the foods that offer lots of calories but little nutritional value.
What you eat affects many aspects of your overall health, including brain health. A healthy diet can improve your ability to think, remember, and process information as you age. In one study, the healthiest eaters at age 50 had a nearly 90% lower risk of dementia than those who had the least healthy diets. The Mediterranean has been proven to boost brain health as well as improve heart health. ²
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating based on the traditional cuisine of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. While there is no single definition of the Mediterranean diet, it is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil.
The main components of the Mediterranean diet include:
- Daily consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats
- Weekly intake of fish, poultry, beans, and eggs
- Moderate portions of dairy products
- Limited intake of red meat
- Other important elements of the Mediterranean diet are sharing meals with family and friends, enjoying a glass of red wine, and being physically active.
Eating the Mediterranean way.
Interested in trying the Mediterranean diet? These tips will help you get started:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Aim for 7 to 10 servings a day of fruit and vegetables.
- Opt for whole grains. Switch to whole-grain bread, cereal and pasta. Experiment with other whole grains, such as bulgur and farro. (note-see about whole grains below)
- Use healthy fats. Try olive oil as a replacement for butter when cooking. Instead of putting butter or margarine on bread, try dipping it in flavored olive oil.
- Eat more seafood. Eat fish twice a week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, and herring are healthy choices. Grilled fish tastes good and requires little cleanup. Avoid deep-fried fish.
- Reduce red meat. Substitute fish, poultry, or beans for meat. If you eat meat, make sure it’s lean and keep portions small.
- Enjoy some dairy. Eat low-fat Greek or plain yogurt and small amounts of a variety of cheeses.
- Spice it up. Herbs and spices boost flavor and lessen the need for salt. ³
- One of the tricky parts of a healthy diet may be in trying to buy healthy whole grains. Highly refined carbohydrates should be limited and avoided if possible.
How to Identify Whole Grains
Think you can identify something with whole grain by color? Think again. Bread, for example, can be brown because of molasses or other ingredients, not necessarily because it contains whole grains. This is why it’s so important to get into the habit of reading nutrition labels. For most whole grain products, you’ll see the words “whole” or “whole grain” first on the ingredient list. ⁴
Some products sound healthier than they are. Watch out for these:
- Fiber enriched: Bread labeled fiber-enriched still carries many carbs, so you will want to enjoy these in moderation.
- All-natural: Like using a filter on your profile piece, this label is misleading. The FDA does not regulate the use of this term, and it can refer to food containing artificial flavors, synthetic substances, and even added color.
- Multigrain: Many people assume this refers to whole grains, but it simply means the product includes multiple grains — not necessarily whole grains.
- Sugar-free: This only means the product does not contain cane sugar. It could contain other natural sweeteners like honey, agave, or artificial sweeteners that can still spike your blood sugar.
- Grain-free vs. gluten-free. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains. Gluten-free products often contain rice flour and sugar — both of which will take your blood sugar to spike town. The term “grain-free” denotes a product with zero grains, which should, by default, also be gluten-free. These tend to be lower in carbs and are better for blood sugar control. ⁵
Many times it is just easier to avoid grains if you are tired of reading confusing nutritional labels. Stick to things at the store that have only one ingredient in the package, such as black beans or lentils, or foods that do not require a label at all, like vegetables: squash, zucchini, and sweet potatoes.
Let us Eat!!!
If you commit to following the Mediterranean diet, introduce fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, seafood, and olive oil into your diet. These foods contain vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and antioxidants, which have been reported to have potential health benefits. ⁶
Most of the food can be eaten just as Mother Nature created it. Do not add sugar or artificial sweeteners to fruit, as that only covers up the wonderful natural flavor and sweetness. To enjoy your vegetables, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, herbs, and spices can be used to enhance the flavor whether you eat them cooked or raw.
If you are thinking of following a Mediterranean Diet plan, here are some benefits that might help you get started:
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Reduced risk of heart disease and heart attack
- Low cholesterol levels
- Reduced risk of hypertension
- Reduced risk of stroke
- Reduced risk of diabetes mellitus and improved outcomes for people with diabetes mellitus
- Weight loss
- Reduced facial wrinkles and dark spots on the skin
I sincerely hope that you will consider the Mediterranean Diet in 2021 to improve your health. The Mediterranean diet is based on the foods that people in Greece and Italy used to eat in the 1940s and 1950s . It has been suggested that these people had far better physical and mental health than the Americans of that time. ⁷ What a wonderful reason to try it, and it tastes wonderful also.
Disclaimer: This blog post does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only.
1, 2, https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/mediterranean-diet
3, 4 https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801
6, 7 https://www.lifespan.io/news/mediterranean-diet/
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