Put Down the Chips and Pick Up the Olives: Experts Say Mediterranean Eating Habits are Key to Healthy Lifestyle

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This month, we’re featuring Greek foods in our Discoveries at the Jungle program, so we wanted to share some recent research about why Mediterranean foods are especially good for you!

Let’s face it. Eating healthy is hard. Many of us are incredibly busy, leaving little time for shopping and cooking. Often, at the end of a long day, it’s easier to pull through a fast food drive-thru than to even think about going home, firing up the oven, and spending time making dinner.

However, recent research has revealed that our poor diets are literally killing us. Last month, The Lancet published a 27-year study that analyzed the dietary impact on health in 195 countries from 1990 to 2017. As it turns out, poor diet causes more deaths globally than smoking or high blood pressure.

So, what constitutes a poor diet? Surprisingly, high sugar and high fat intake were not the highest risk factors for diet-related health issues. Instead, researchers discovered that these three dietary risk factors contributed to more than half of global diet-related mortalities:

  1. Low whole grains.
  2. Low fruits.
  3. High sodium.

This held especially true in the United States, where the top four dietary risk factors were:

  1. Low whole grains.
  2. Low nuts and seeds.
  3. High sodium.
  4. Low fruits.

Basically, this means that the worst thing you can do for your diet, and consequently your health, is to limit whole grains, nuts and seeds, and fruits. It’s not that we’re eating too much of the bad stuff, but, rather, that we’re not eating enough of the good stuff.

So, what do we do? Luckily the answer is simple: worry less about cutting out the bad stuff and start eating more of the good stuff. Some believe that this can be accomplished with the MedDiet, short for Mediterranean Diet, which relies on plant-based foods and healthy fats for a balanced lifestyle and diet.

A quick note: Unlike popular fad diets, the Mediterranean Diet isn’t a get-thin-quick plan or a deprivation diet. Rather, think of the word “diet” as a word that just means your long-term eating habits.

So, if you’re ready to start eating healthy, whole foods that are good for you, here’s where to start:

  • Primarily eat plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.

 

  • Replace butter with healthy fats like olive oil.

 

  • Use herbs and spices to flavor food and rely less on table salt.

 

  • Eat fish or poultry at least twice a week.

 

  • Limit red meat to only a few times a month, if at all.

 

  • Stay active throughout the day.

 

  • Enjoy meals “family style” with groups of friends and family.

 

Plant-Based Foods

On average, people in Greece consume nine (yes, nine!) servings of fruits and vegetables each day. By contrast, only about 10% of Americans are eating adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables every day. Neglecting your fruits and vegetables can cause negative health outcomes. One reason these foods are incredibly important is because they are rich in antioxidants. In one study, researchers proved that athletes have better endurance and are able to perform better after being on the Mediterranean Diet for only a few days. They believe that this is because of the high amount of antioxidant-rich foods in the MedDiet. Antioxidants lower systemic inflammation in the body, which has been shown to impede athletic performance. Even if you’re not an athlete, eating meals with plenty of fresh produce can help you feel and perform better every day.

Eating plant-based foods also means eating whole grains! If you’re trying out the Mediterranean Diet, it’s important to eat plenty of whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, oats, barley, and bulgur. Just remember to be mindful of empty carbohydrates. Stay away from refined foods like white bread, cookies, and sugary cereals. Instead, choose healthy whole grains that are high in fiber and nutrients. The Oldways Whole Grains Council offers a whole grain stamp that companies can add to their product packaging. You can check it out here. If you see the stamp, you’ll know that that food contains at least half a serving of whole grains.

One more healthy plant-based food: nuts! Nuts are full of healthy fats and can be very filling, meaning they make a great snack to keep at the office for times when your lunchtime salad just didn’t cut it. However, make sure you don’t consume nuts in high quantities since they can be high in calories and fat.

Healthy Fats

This is an essential part of the Mediterranean Diet. Instead of using hydrogenated oils (trans fats) and saturated fats, switch to healthy fats like olive oil! Extra-virgin and virgin olive oils are best because they contain the highest levels of antioxidants. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and albacore tuna are also great sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are important because they can improve or regulate heart and blood vessel health. Canola oil and some nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, cashews, pecans, pine nuts, macadamias, and Brazilian nuts) contain linoleic acid, which is an important fatty acid.

How to Get Started

So, are you ready to start incorporating some of the Mediterranean Diet philosophies into your lifestyle? Here’s how to get started:

  • Make a meal plan at the beginning of the week and stick to it. It can help to do all of your grocery shopping for the next week on the weekend, then prep meals on Sunday.

 

  • Do as much food prep ahead of time. If a healthy meal is waiting at home in the fridge, you’re less likely to order take-out after a long day of work.

 

  • Find healthy recipes that you enjoy cooking and eating, then stick to them! Here are a few of our favorites:

Mediterranean Bulgur Salad

Greek Orzo Salad

Cannellini Bean Dip with Pesto

Spicy Hummus

Roast Chicken Thighs and Drumsticks with Lemon and Thyme

Grilled Salmon with Mustard and Herbs

Chickpea Tikka Masala

Greek Stuffed Peppers with Farro

Remember, don’t completely deprive yourself. If you are craving ice cream, let yourself have a small scoop of frozen yogurt. Is frozen yogurt healthy? Well… not exactly. But indulging in a treat now and then won’t make or break your health. What it will do is keep you sane and prevent you from breaking down and binge eating everything you’ve been craving all at once! Just remember to practice moderation!

All in all, you don’t have to drop everything and completely adopt the Mediterranean Diet to lead a healthy life. But, taking some of these tips to heart can help you enjoy a greater diversity of foods and think consciously about what you’re eating.

One last note: As always, don’t take medical advice from our blog! We’re not doctors. If you are seriously concerned about your health or have ongoing medical conditions, you should consult your doctor before making drastic dietary changes.


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