Happy New Year, Friends!
Since so many New Year’s resolutions are about getting healthy, I thought I would start out 2019 with a post about getting healthy with the Mediterranean Diet! I first talked about the Mediterranean Diet on the blog about this time last year in the post My Be Healthy, Keep-Away-the-Cancer-Diet, Explained. At that time I was just learning that there was a diet named for the way that I ate, and I was just getting back on a healthy path after several months off. Since then I’ve lost all the weight I wanted to lose and a few pounds more, and I had a very successful health screen showing all of my levels in the normal range and a blood pressure of 116/60.
With my weight and health goals met, I’m now focusing on getting creative with my healthy dishes, and on my fitness. But first, I want to share a little more about the Mediterranean Diet for those of you who have health and weight loss goals of your own this year.
So…what is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet has its own food pyramid to serve as a visual, but the foundation of the Mediterranean Diet is veggies….lots and lots of veggies! Of course you also need fruit (but in smaller quantities since fruit does have naturally-occurring sugar), and there needs to be a daily protein source as well. That comes from beans and nuts, followed by fish and seafood, poultry and eggs…but heavier on the fish than the poultry. While technically higher in cholesterol than poultry, fish and seafood has Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids which actually block the absorption of bad cholesterols, making them ultimately the best where cholesterol is concerned.
However, do remember that some types of fish, such as fresh tuna and swordfish, are known for being higher in mercury so you’ll want to limit those. Stick to fish such as salmon, flounder and tilapia, as well as shellfish like oysters, shrimp and scallops. A good rule of thumb is–the larger the fish, the higher the level of mercury; and the fish that eat plants are safer than the fish that eat meat.
Red meats on the Mediterranean Diet are a rare treat, just like sweets. While this realistically has more to do with what animal protein sources were readily available in Mediterranean countries over the centuries than it does with what is healthy, it turns out that red meat is awful for your overall health. It is the hardest food for your body to digest, it is the highest in fat, highest in cholesterol, and most likely to cause cancer. This is why the first thing the doctor tells people when they are diagnosed with colon cancer is to stop eating red meat. If only they would pass along that information before the cancer forms…
You’ll notice that dairy is also in the “weekly, moderate portions” category. That is for the same reason as the red meat…because dairy is actually pretty bad for your health as well. Here in America we are told regularly by the government-backed Food and Drug Administration that we “have to have dairy to get enough calcium in our diets.” This is absolutely, positively, one hundred percent false, and the reason that myth has been perpetuated for as long as it has is because the dairy industry itself has a heavy influence on these government programs in the form of the almighty American dollar. It is a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” relationship that is to the detriment of the American people.
The proof is in the pudding–we are one of the highest consumers of dairy in the world, yet America also has among the highest occurrences of hip fracture and osteoporosis in the world. But wait…isn’t high dairy consumption supposed to prevent osteoporosis and improve bone health? If that is true, then why does the correlation between high dairy consumption and high rates of osteoporosis and bone fracture suggest otherwise? I will dig deeper into this in an upcoming post. At any rate, I love my cheese so that is most definitely an integral part of my diet, but I keep it minimal and don’t consume any other dairy, aside from the very occasional sour cream and ice cream. And in case you’re wondering–my calcium levels have been perfect in every health screen.
Finally, the grains. Unlike in the American low-carb diets, grains are pushed in the Mediterranean Diet–but it has to be the right kind. You’ll want to stay away from white pastas, breads, crackers and rice. When eating out it’s virtually impossible to get whole grain pastas, but at home you can stick exclusively to whole wheat pasta, brown rice, and whole grain breads. The breads are the tricky part, because often the cheap loaves of wheat bread in the grocery store claim to be whole grain, but they aren’t. They are made with whole grains, but also with sugar, preservatives, and some enriched flours as well. This is one of those areas where you will want to get good at reading ingredient labels, specifically watching for the word “enriched” in front of any flours, and also be prepared to pay a little more for “real” bread.
How to Go Mediterranean
My recommendation for a first step? Throw away every bit of sweets and highly-processed foods in your house. I know, I know, I can hear it already–“I can’t do that, it’s wasteful!” Normally I would agree with you, but in this case I think health needs to be priority number one. Sweets and processed foods are detrimental to your health. There is little-to-no nutritional value, and sugar is the absolute worst thing in the world for your waistline. So if you want to get healthy, do not have a sugary pig out fest or put it off until the unhealthy stuff is out of your house–just get rid of it. Right now, today, purge your kitchen of the junk so you’re ready to dive into your new life.
The next step is to hit the store and stock up on fridge and pantry essentials! Make yourself a shopping list before you go so you won’t feel lost at the store. You don’t need to worry about finding recipes just yet, but you’ll want to get your kitchen set up and ready for your new healthy lifestyle. Here are the staples I would start with:
- Salad greens. This is something I’ve found to be a necessity, because if I’m at a loss for a side dish or lunch, I can always throw a salad together using such a vast variety of ingredients. So always have a couple of lettuces, spinach, etc. on hand to serve as a salad base.
- Eggs. You can hard boil eggs to keep in the fridge for a snack, to and add to your salad as a protein source, or to make tuna and chicken salads. You can poach an egg and put it on toast with avocado for breakfast. Eggs are just a really quick and easy protein source to have around.
- Beans. Dried, canned, whichever you prefer–but I always like to have a variety on hand. My favorites are black beans, cannellini beans and garbanzo beans (aka chickpeas). I also use pinto and kidney beans fairly often. For dried beans, I really like lentils. Black-eye peas are another fun and different bean to work with.
- Nuts and seeds. These are great for salads and just for snacking on. They’re a great protein source and help fill you up. My oldest son loves to have 1/4 cup of roasted peanuts with 1oz. of cheddar cheese for a snack. And I personally love walnuts on just about any kind of salad, both cold and warm. Pepitas and sunflower seeds also make a great addition to many veggie-friendly recipes. Don’t forget the peanut butter, or sunflower butter if you can’t do nuts. And lastly, flax and chia seeds. These can go in smoothies, oatmeal, power bites, chia pudding…so many different uses!
- Cooking and baking necessities. Which for me means whole wheat flour, stevia packets, stevia for baking, honey, real maple syrup, almond (or soy or coconut) milk, coconut and olive oils, and red wine, balsamic and apple cider vinegars.
- Grains. What I like to keep handy is a whole wheat bread loaf (I buy mine from a local vendor and slice it myself), a large container of oats, at least one kind of wheat pasta, a box of boil-in-bag brown rice, and a package of brown rice noodles for making Buddha bowls. I also always have whole wheat tortillas because we love wraps and quesadillas…but these are definitely made with enriched flour. It is one thing I’ll make an exception for.
- Veggies. I like to keep a container in the fridge with chopped vegetables, ready for dipping in hummus (my kids prefer ranch, and I can’t break them away from it). My regular go-to’s are broccoli, carrots and celery. I like to keep mini sweet peppers around as well. I also usually have fresh green beans, beets, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, avocadoes and/or zucchini in the fridge as well. You’ll learn what your favorite vegetables are as you grow.
- Fruit. For fruit, berries are fantastic because they’re low in sugar. I’ve learned that I actually really like the tartness of raw cranberries, an they’re also good in so many dishes and tossed in salads. I like to keep frozen mixed berries in the freezer for use in smoothies. Grapefruit is my absolute favorite fruit, and we usually have grapes and green apples around as well. I like to have lemons because lemon juice goes well in so many dishes. Another go-to is unsweetened applesauce, because it can replace oil in a lot of baked goods. Bananas are also great for smoothies, but be aware that they are the highest in sugar and carbs for a fruit. I try to do smoothies that only use half of a banana.
- Meat. First and foremost is fish and seafood. My grandparents always buy several pounds of locally caught catfish from an area vendor, and they’re generous enough to share a few pounds with me. I also really like to have salmon and shrimp around as basics. I always have some ground turkey and chicken breast in the house as well, along with a couple of cans of tuna.
- Wine. I strongly encourage a glass of red wine most days. It’s good for your heart, good for your immune system, and great for your sanity!
Honestly, you are going to find that there are so many different ways to put together meals, lunches and snacks using just the things I’ve listed above. As an example, if I don’t have leftovers to take to work for lunch I’ll throw together a salad using my greens, chickpeas, walnuts, either cranberries or chopped green apples, maybe some goat cheese, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I’ll take an apple and some almonds to work for a snack. I love to make chia pudding for dessert, as well as a chocolate mug cake with stevia and applesauce in place of the sugar and oil.
For breakfast, oatmeal is always super fast to make, with some walnuts and chia seeds for protein, cooked with almond milk for added calcium and sweetened with stevia. I’ll buy packets of Simply Nature organic oatmeal to keep at work in case I don’t have time for breakfast at home. It’s also easy to poach an egg in the microwave (about an inch of water in the bottom of a coffee mug, crack an egg, microwave on high for 45 seconds) and eat it on toast with some sliced avocado. Another favorite is a buffalo wrap – scramble one whole egg and one egg white (since the yolk is where all the cholesterol is, anything that requires two eggs I’ll usually eliminate one of the yolks) with a little almond milk. Put it on a whole wheat wrap, drizzle with some buffalo sauce and a tiny bit of ranch (just enough for flavor)
Once you have your kitchen stocked and ready, you can start working with the different ingredients to make meals, and start recipe surfing. You can look up recipes for the Mediterranean diet, vegan or vegetarian recipes that use beans and nuts, plant based diet recipes, clean eating recipes, even some keto and low-carb recipes that aren’t too heavily centered around meat…you’ll find lots of recipes in all of these places that work great for the Mediterranean diet. And of course, I always share recipes every other Monday here on the blog, titled Mediterranean Monday. I will also link to some of my favorite Instagram foodie accounts, YouTubers and blogs in a future post, so stay tuned!
I hope this post serves as a good starting point for you, and if you have any questions or there is anything you’d like to know more about, please ask! As I mentioned earlier, I will be doing a post later this month about why dairy is bad for your health, and how I work around it. I’ll also share some yummy salad ideas I’ve tried lately!
Here’s to a healthy and happy new year!