Living Well: The diet of all diets isn’t really a diet |

Living Well: The diet of all diets isn’t really a diet

Lauren Glendenning/Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health
The Mediterranean Diet includes a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein (mainly from seafood, beans, peas, lentils, nuts and nut butters, seeds and seed butters), with a focus on heart-healthy fats (these include avocados, olives and olive oil). This diet also allows protein from lean red meats, poultry, eggs, fat-free dairy and cheese.

The Mediterranean Diet

  • Eat your veggies and fruits — and switch to whole grains. An abundance and variety of plant foods should make up the majority of your meals. Strive for 7 to 10 servings a day of veggies and fruits. Switch to whole-grain bread and cereal, and begin to eat more whole-grain rice and pasta products.
  • Go nuts. Keep almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts on hand for a quick snack. Choose natural peanut butter, rather than the kind with hydrogenated fat added. Try tahini (blended sesame seeds) as a dip or spread for bread.
  • Pass on the butter. Try olive or canola oil as a healthy replacement for butter or margarine. Use it in cooking. Dip bread in flavored olive oil or lightly spread it on whole-grain bread for a tasty alternative to butter. You can also try tahini as a dip or spread.
  • Spice it up. Herbs and spices make food tasty and are also rich in health-promoting substances. Season your meals with herbs and spices rather than salt.
  • Go fish. Eat fish once or 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 fried fish, unless it's sauteed in a small amount of canola oil.
  • Rein in the red meat. Substitute fish and poultry for red meat. When eaten, make sure it's lean and keep portions small (about the size of a deck of cards). Also avoid sausage, bacon and other high-fat meats.
  • Choose low-fat dairy. Limit higher-fat dairy products such as whole or 2 percent milk, cheese and ice cream. Switch to skim milk, fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese.
  • Raise a glass to healthy eating. If it's OK with your doctor, have a glass of wine at dinner. If you don't drink alcohol, you don't need to start. Drinking purple grape juice may be an alternative to wine.

Source: Mayo Clinic

MRH Weight Loss Support Group

The MRH weight loss support group is geared toward bariatric surgery patients, but is also open to the public. Each month, a speaker will focus on a different topic and the group will have opportunities to ask questions.

When: Third Thursday of every month, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Next meeting is May 16.

Cost: Free, open to the public.

Where: Medical Clinic Cafeteria, 785 Russell St.

One of the world’s best diets in terms of results, popularity and overall health benefits is the Mediterranean Diet — but perhaps its greatest benefit of all is that it’s not really a diet, it’s an eating pattern and lifestyle.

The Mediterranean Diet can help prevent cardiovascular diseases, increase lifespan and promote healthy aging. It can also be a tool for healthy weight loss when used in conjunction with caloric restriction, according to Harvard Medical School.

Recognition of the diet goes back to the mid-20th century, when it was discovered that Crete, Greece and southern Italy all had low rates of chronic disease and higher-than-average life expectancy, despite having limited access to healthcare.

“It promotes a more fiber-focused way of eating, which is fantastic for heart-health, bowel health and blood sugar control,” said Madysen Jourgensen, registered dietitian at Memorial Regional Health. “The big thing for me is that the Mediterranean Diet is supported by large bodies of research that show there are health benefits. That can’t always be said — and most of the time is not —  for other diets.”

Why the Mediterranean Diet is so healthy

Research has shown in recent years that diets can often work in the short term, but people tend to gain the weight back. That’s why many experts — from scientists to dietitians to physicians —  are now favoring lifestyle choices over diets.

“I typically have a ‘no diet’ mentality. I believe more in just developing healthful eating patterns by including foods from each food group while focusing on variety and moderation,” Jourgensen said. “With that being said, I think the Mediterranean meal pattern is an extremely healthful intake model and would be one of the better ‘diet’ patterns for one to follow. Foods promoted on this diet are not only high in vitamins and minerals, but also are high in fiber and contain heart-healthy fats. The nature of this diet just promotes general, healthful food choices.”

A study of nearly 26,000 women published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year found that people who followed this type of diet had a 25 percent less risk of developing cardiovascular disease over the course of 12 years.

The no-diet diet

If you’ve decided the Mediterranean Diet might be something worth trying, it’s important that you don’t think of it as a “diet.” By incorporating some easy steps into your daily food choices, you could end up following this healthy eating pattern more gradually over time, thus making it more sustainable long term.

Jourgensen said the focus of this diet is primarily as follows: include a variety of different fruits and vegetables with a variety of different colors; eat whole grains; and get protein mainly from seafood, beans, peas, lentils, nuts and nut butters, seeds and seed butters, with a focus on heart-healthy fats (these include avocados, olives and olive oil). This diet also allows protein from lean red meats, poultry, eggs, fat-free dairy and cheese; however, these protein sources should be limited to small amounts.

There is a risk of excess calorie intake because specific amounts of foods and portion sizes are not emphasized, which could lead to weight gain, according to Harvard Medical School. Because of this, it’s important to keep portion sizes in check if you’re trying the Mediterranean Diet as a weight loss tool.

The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends the following steps to get started on a Mediterranean lifestyle (these are especially helpful for incorporating these foods into kids’ diets):

  1. Build a strong base of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, which are the foundation of the Mediterranean Diet. These foods deliver vitamins and minerals that growing bodies need, carbohydrates for energy and fiber for smooth digestion. Instead of making meat the main event, use plant-based foods as the foundation for hearty meals such as pasta with vegetables, minestrone soup or stir-fried veggies over brown rice.
  2. Start eating more beans and lentils, which are loaded with plant protein, fiber, carbohydrates and are naturally low in fat. Try adding chickpeas to salads, tossing peas into rice or incorporating mashed pinto beans into a quesadilla.
  3. Eat more fish, which is a source of heart- and brain-friendly omega-3 fatty acids.
  4. Lose the fat phobia. Healthy fats from olive oil, nuts and seeds are a big part of this eating pattern. In addition to making olive oil your go-to cooking oil, toss pine nuts or slivered almonds into sautéed green beans, spinach or asparagus.
  5. Dunk veggies into Mediterranean-inspired dips such as hummus, tzatziki (cucumber-yogurt dip), or baba ganoush (eggplant and sesame).

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