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Nutrition Notes

Adopting a Mediterranean style diet for better health

Karen Lentner head shotNutritionist Karen LentnerAre you looking for ways to improve your health and brain function, prevent disease, and control your weight? You might want to consider the Mediterranean Diet, honored as the number one overall diet in America by U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking in 2018 (tied with the DASH diet). Several studies have concluded that the Mediterranean Diet may reduce your risk of cardiac disease, cancer, stroke, inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease, and in older populations may improve overall brain function.

The Mediterranean Diet is a well-balanced healthy eating plan that incorporates plenty of plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and healthy fats like olive oil. It encourages using herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt, eating fish and poultry at least twice per week, small amounts of dairy including low-fat yogurt and cheese, and limiting processed foods, sweets and meat. Consider seasonal and fresh foods whenever possible. These foods are the foundation of traditional cooking styles in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including Italy, Spain and Greece.

Traditional whole grains in the Mediterranean region include brown, red or black rice; barley; farro; quinoa; and whole grain breads eaten plain or dipped in olive oil instead of butter. Consider oatmeal for breakfast or air-popped popcorn for a snack. Look for the term “whole grain” on labels, in bread, pasta, or rice, limiting white and refined grains and bread. Extra fiber also helps you feel full for longer periods of time, which is beneficial for weight control.

Healthy fats including olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fish such as salmon and sardines (rich in omega-3 fatty acids) are encouraged. Cook with olive oil instead of butter, in moderation if watching your weight. Try using olive oil in salad dressings and for roasting vegetables.

In order to fully benefit from the Mediterranean Diet, also consider lifestyle modifications. Cooking and sharing your food with family and friends provides a social support and a sense of community. Look for ways to exercise and become more active. Consider walking with a friend for at least 30 minutes daily, or try a yoga or tai chi class to improve balance and strength. Remember to drink plenty of fluids, especially water.

Try healthier choices for meals and snacks. Instead of hamburgers, substitute a salmon burger; quinoa instead of white rice; carrot, celery or cucumber sticks instead of chips or crackers; yogurt instead of ice cream; whole grain bread instead of a white roll; and hummus spread instead of mayonnaise on a sandwich. Consider tomato, cucumber and green lettuce sprinkled with olive oil, lemon, and oregano – a wonderful blend of flavors.

Start your Mediterranean-style journey to better health TODAY!

Join friends for a meal at your local senior center or consider Meals on Wheels