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Last week I wrote about research on the Mediterranean Diet. In summary, Antonia Trichopoulou and his colleagues reported on a large study that examined over 22,000 healthy adults in Greece and found that those eating a traditional Mediterranean diet had a significant reduction in death from heart disease and cancer (NEJM 2003;348:2599-2608).
The results of this research are so fantastic because they show how simple changes can make a major difference in your health. While the researchers looked a number of factors the core of the Mediterranean diet can be broken into 9 important areas of change for your health.
1. Vegetables - This one’s pretty easy. It’s hard to eat too many vegetables and making them a part of your lunch and as snacks is one way. Keep in mind that veggies aren’t just for dinner. Plan to have an extra helping for dinner. It won’t add many calories and helps fill you up.
I often have patients say “I don’t like vegetables, Doc.” When I ask them if there are any that they do like I always get a good response. The reply is “sure, I love spinach.” As I ask about more vegetables I get more positive responses. Make a list for yourself of the veggies that you like and keep them on hand. It will be longer than you think.
2. Legumes - I have written on this in many columns and sidebars on the Dr. Gourmet site. Making beans your choice for a starch with dinner as with Black Bean Cakes or Sea Bass with White Beans. Minestrone or Split Pea Soup with a salad makes a great dinner. Fill your pantry with canned or dried beans like kidneys, garbanzos and black beans. (See Legumes.)
3. Fruits and nuts - Fruit is the perfect snack. Sweet and satisfying, it’s important to keep your fridge full of apples, pears and oranges so that you always have something.
There is good research that if you replace a two ounce cookie with two ounces of nuts you won’t gain weight (even though the nuts may have more calories).
4. Cereals - Whole grains are really good for you. If you are used to “white” starches like white rice, pasta and white bread, make the transition slowly. There are “light” whole wheat breads that taste great, for example. Using whole wheat pasta or brown rice in some of your favorite dishes is another way.
Choose cereals that are less processed, like oatmeal, but also look for whole grain cereals. One easy way to tell is purchasing cereal with more fiber and less sugar.
5. Fish - More fish, less meat. Simple. As with the vegetables, there may be more fish that you like than you thought. I have had many people using eatTHISdiet who began trying recipes with fish that they thought they hated only to have them become favorites.
6. Olive oil - This really means eating more monounsaturated fat. Olive oil is a good choice, but so is canola oil. Grapeseed oil may be even better for you than either olive or canola. Dr. Trichopoulou’s research also looked at the ratio of monounsaturated fat to saturated fat. It is very important to decrease the use of butter, lard, shortening and other highly saturated fats.
7. Dairy products - The traditional Mediterranean diet doesn’t have dairy products as a major focus. When dairy is part of meals it is often in the form of yogurt or cheese. Decreasing the amount of dairy in your diet and using more low-fat dairy is key.
8. Meats - Less meat and lean meats. The median consumption was about 4 ounces of meat per day. The rule of thumb is to eat red meat only about once a week. When you are choosing meats look for leaner cuts that will have less saturated fats. Most recipes on the Dr. Gourmet site use 4 ounces as a standard serving in a recipe, whether it is beef, lamb, poultry or fish.
9. Alcohol - There is good evidence that moderate use of alcohol is good for you and this research supports that. Interestingly, the alcohol consumed by the Greek participants in this study was more often with meals.
Make these changes in your life and consider making them gradually. If for the next nine months you simply focused on one of these nine components each month and changed that area of your diet there’s a good chance that you will be far healthier this time next year.
Eat well, eat healthy, enjoy life!
June 6, 2006