It's time for fresh beginnings and new diet plans. With the start of new year's resolutions, I hear clients ask "what diet should I be following?" To be honest, I've never liked the word "diet". To me, it means you are only doing something temporarily. Unfortunately, that "miracle" diet plan isn't out there, but there is good news! Research has shown that following a Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest eating styles. Not only does it focus on whole grains, produce, and healthy fats, it also encourages not overdoing it with cheese and animal-based protein intake. I know for some that's hard to chew.
When you transition to a Mediterranean eating style, you are protecting your heart, decreasing the risk for certain cancers, and improving life expectancy. Cheers to that! Yet with any lifestyle changes, jumping into the Mediterranean diet with an all-or-nothing attitude may not be the best approach. Start by choosing one or two changes you think you would enjoy and see how it goes. Keep in mind that eating healthy doesn't mean you can incorporate one or two "superfoods" and be protected from negative health outcomes.
However, these principles can easily slip away from sight with time. Let me tell you that I'm a strong believer that the foundation of our meals should be based on whole foods while still allowing indulgences. A little cookie here and a soft pretzel there a few times per week adds up though. It takes time and effort to transition from a more westernized eating approach to a Mediterranean style. Don't give up. Remember how good you feel when you invest in yourself.
Here are some quick and easy ideas to help you incorporate these principles into your daily eating habits:
Start using olive oil with marinades and salad dressing (read nutrition labels to see if they are soybean based or canola/olive oil).
Limit red meat intake to once per week or special occasions. Instead, try plant based proteins like legumes, nuts, seeds, and soybeans (tofu/tempeh/edamame).
Eat meals as a family and take time to enjoy your food (without phones or television on in the background).
Stick to yogurt and milk for dairy over cheese.
Have a small handful (1/4 cup or 2 tbsp spreadable) of nuts most days of the week.
Add in an additional serving of fruits and vegetables if you aren't currently getting 5 servings per day. Try keeping dried or fresh fruit at work (apples, pears, oranges, and clementines work well) and have with plain yogurt for an afternoon snack.
If you sit often during the day, find times during the workday to get up and move or stretch for a few minutes. You should be active at least 150 minutes per week.
Whole grains and starches should show up most of the time on your plate. Try barley risotto or swap in whole wheat couscous instead of the white version.
Try to purchase foods that are minimally processed, seasonal, and locally grown, if able.
Swap out butter, corn oil, vegetables oils for olive oils in recipes when possible.
Consume low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry each week (favoring fish over poultry).
Don't over do it on the eggs. This diet recommends consuming four eggs per week (including those used in baking).
Enjoy desserts with sugar and saturated fat only up to few times per week. If this is tricky for you, read your nutrition labels and keep daily treats around 150 calories.
If you do drink, only a moderate amount of wine. That's about one to two glasses per day for men and one glass per day for women ( 1 serving is 5 ounces not 8 ounces ...sorry).
Below is a beloved recipe of mine that embraces many of the healthy foods recommended in the Mediterranean eating plan. The best part about this salad is not only the vibrant colors, but that it's super simple to make! If you don't have bulgur you can either leave it out or substitute with quinoa or barley.
1/2 cup bulgur
2 bunches of parsley (curly preferred), stems removed
2 lemons, juiced
4-6 scallions or 1/2 onion, chopped
1/4-1/3 cup olive oil
2 medium tomatoes, seeds removed and diced
optional: 1/2 english cucumber, diced
salt and pepper to taste
Put the bulgur in a bowl, cover it with an inch with water (it will double in size), and let it sit at least 20 minutes.
Wash and dry the parsley and finely chop and put them in a large mixing bowl.
Slice the cucumber lengthwise into thirds, then chop. Chop onion and tomato and add them to the cucumber and parsley.
Squeeze any remaining water out of bulgur and it to the vegetables.
Bernstein AM, Sun Q, Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Manson JE, Willett WC. Major dietary protein sources and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. Circulation. 2010;122(9):876-883.18.
Bernstein AM, Pan A, Rexrode KM, et al. Dietary protein sources and the risk of stroke in men and women. Stroke. 2012;43(3):637-644.