La Trobe University Professor Catherine Itsiopoulos, who is head of the School of Dietetics, did extensive research on the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. Simple diet changes to the American way of eating can be made to improve our health and overall well-being.
Make simple diet changes the Mediterranean way
The Mediterranean Diet has been said to be one of the healthiest and most enjoyable ways of eating in the world. Most of us are familiar with Italy and Greece but the Mediterranean area encompasses about 40 different countries. It’s interesting to compare the similarities and differences in the food they eat in each region.
Olive oil is common to all of the Mediterranean countries because olives grow abundantly throughout the region. Crete has been studied intensively and it’s been found to have the lowest death rates from heart disease of all of the other countries studied. The reason for this is that Cretans eat a mostly vegetarian diet with bread as their primary carbohydrate. Italians eat more pasta and pizza. The Cretan diet favors plant foods, seafood, and a small amount of animal protein. They also eat yogurt, made from goat milk every day. Goat milk is more digestible than cow’s milk for humans and is widely consumed in Greece.
Although meat dishes from all these countries are often featured in recipe books, they’re considered to be special occasion dishes and are mainly prepared for festivals. On a day to day basis, the traditional Mediterranean cuisine is much more simple. A typical meal may consist of bean soup, wild greens, a small piece of freshly baked bread dipped in olive oil, and olives.
A study group of middle-aged Americans of Anglo-Celtic Background, with Type 2 Diabetes, were fed a Cretan peasant-style diet for 3 months. Calories were not restricted and they were able to eat as much as they desired until they felt full. During that time, their blood glucose levels improved dramatically. They also looked and felt younger.
Some of the ways that those of us over 50 can make simple diet changes is to eat more salads and fresh vegetables, limit animal fat, use olive oil and balsamic vinegar instead of bottled salad dressings, eat some type of fruit daily, legumes at least twice a week, plain yogurt for snacks, and whole grains.
Dr. Itsiopoulos developed the 10 Commandments of the Mediterranean diet:
- Use olive oil as your main added fat (aim for 2 oz a day;
- Eat vegetables with every meal (include 3 1/2 leafy greens and 3 1/2 oz tomatoes, and 7 oz of other vegetables/day);
- Include at least two types of legumes at meals (9 oz serve) per week;
- Eat at least two servings of fish (5-6 oz) per week and include oily fish: for example Atlantic and Australian salmon, blue-eye trevalla, blue mackerel, gemfish, canned sardines, and canned salmon. Canned tuna is not as high in the important fish oil omega-3, but still a good choice to include in your fish serves.
- Eat smaller portions of meat (beef, lamb, pork, and chicken) and less often (no more than once or twice a week);
- Eat fresh fruit every day and dried fruit and nuts as snacks or dessert;
- Eat yogurt every day (about 8 oz) and cheese in moderation (about 1 or 2 oz per day);
- Include wholegrain bread and cereals with meals (aim for 3-4 slices of bread per day);
- Consume wine in moderation (one standard drink a day, which is about 4-5 oz), always with meals, and don’t get drunk. Try and have a couple of alcohol-free days a week;
- Have sweets or sweet drinks for special occasions only.
What simple diet changes will you make to avoid type 2 diabetes and heart disease? Please leave a comment below.