Mediterranean Diet Staples- Protein

Despite being lower in red meat than the traditional Western diet, a Mediterranean diet has plenty of healthy protein sources. Reducing red meat is not only beneficial in reducing your risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes, research suggests it’s also better for the environment long term. Below are some healthy sources of protein to include in your diet regularly.

Eggs- eggs are eaten in moderation in a Mediterranean diet, but are an inexpensive, versatile source of high quality protein. Add fresh spinach to eggs for eggs Florentine or toss in sautéed peppers and onions to boost color, flavor and anti-oxidant content. Eggs are not just for breakfast!

Spanish cooks like to make a "torta" where they add veggies and potatoes to their eggs. It is like making a meal in a pan!

Legumes (beans and peas)- the Mediterranean diet was discovered by Ancel Keys in the 1950’s. He took notice that the poorer sections of Italy had lower rates of heart disease than more affluent areas. One reason is their regular consumption of beans over meat. Beans provide a filling source of fat-free protein and provide a hefty dose of fiber, which promotes good gut health.

Lentils cook very fast and do not need soaking. They are very delicious when made into a soup with vegetables and broth. You can also keep canned beans on hand or try hummus, a garbanzo bean dip that is popular in the Mediterranean region.

Fish- being so close to the Mediterranean Sea, it makes sense that fish and other seafood are quite common in a Mediterranean diet. Fish is a low-fat source of protein and can be broiled and served in 10 minutes. Consumption of two servings of fish per week is linked with lower rates of heart disease and dementia, according to the American Heart Association.

If you are not sure about fish give tilapia a try since it has a mild taste and is usually one of the least expensive. Canned tuna or sardines are also easy to purchase and store.

Low-fat dairy products- what is life without cheese? Cheese is not the only dairy food consumed by those following a Mediterranean diet. Yogurt is quite common and used at breakfast, in dips or sauces. Greek yogurt has a tart taste and thick texture. It tends to be higher in protein and lower in sugar than traditional yogurt.

Greek yogurt can be used like sour cream. You can make a dip with it by mixing with cucumbers or you can serve it with fruit for a snack or dessert.

Poultry- poultry is eaten less frequently in a Mediterranean diet, but is still consumed in moderation. Chicken or turkey breast without the skin is the leanest part of the bird and can be baked, grilled or broiled. Use leftover chicken over a bed of greens or toss it into whole grain pasta or farro for a quick meal.

Use meat and poultry as a condiment. Many countries grill kabobs or small square pieces of poultry and meat and they serve with rice and veggies.

Seafood- octopus is on my bucket list of foods to try, though it’s quite commonly consumed in Greece and other Mediterranean countries. If you’re not into octopus and can’t afford lobster, shrimp is a low-fat protein source to keep on hand for quick meals such as shrimp and pasta or Mediterranean sheet pan shrimp with vegetables.

Frozen shrimp thaw quickly and can be ready in minutes.

Submitted by Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD

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