Transitioning to the Mediterranean Diet

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The New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study about the Mediterranean diet. The results of that study indicate that an energy-unrestricted Mediterranean diet could lower the risk of certain cardiovascular events by 30% among high-risk individuals.

The idea that the Mediterranean diet is good for the heart isn’t exactly new. In fact, studies about this diet and its effects on heart health have been going on for over 60 years. Starting with the Seven Countries study and continuing from there with several large observational studies, research has repeatedly shown that compliance with the Mediterranean diet appears to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.

So, what is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet has roots in the Greek (particularly Crete) and Southern Italian approaches to eating during the 1960s.

One of the key tenets of the Mediterranean diet is that vegetables are a main course. The high consumption of vegetables is a key feature of the Mediterranean diet. For example, the Greeks consume almost a pound of vegetables a day. In order for this to be accomplished, vegetables like green beans, peas, eggplant, artichokes, and okra are all cooked in olive oil with tomatoes and herbs. This dish is often accompanied by a bit of bread and feta cheese. The best part? This meal offers over 3 full servings of vegetables!

Another characteristic of the Mediterranean diet has to do with timing. The main meal is eaten around 2:00 pm each day, rather than in the evening.

Home cooked meals are a staple. The Mediterranean diet is about real, fresh, and seasonal ingredients. Now, if you’re going to follow the diet, you don’t have to cook from scratch every day, but incorporating a few healthful meals that you can prepare yourself is a great idea. Start with vegetable stews, roasted fish and bean dishes will greatly improve the diet.

Olive oil is key to the Mediterranean diet. Many of the its benefits appear to come from the “good” monounsaturated fats and polyphenols in the olive oil. In order to get the health benefits of olive oil in your diet, replace saturated and trans fats with olive oil. Remember to consume fats in moderation.

By Elena Paravantes, RD, author of the blog

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