Go Mediterranean


The Mediterranean Diet is more than just huge bowls of pasta or bread dipped in olive oil. It’s a"whole diet” approach that involves eating from a well-rounded menu while enjoying the company of friends and family.

Mediterranean eating patterns were followed for thousands of years in the nations surrounding the Mediterranean Sea: Spain, Greece, Crete, Morocco, Turkey and southern France and Italy. Overwhelming research, dating back to the 1950s, suggests that eating a Mediterranean-type diet is associated with a longer, healthier life.

I recently attended the Oldways 15th Anniversary Mediterranean Diet Conference where leading European and American scientists presented their latest research.

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

A new pyramid unveiled at the meeting emphasizes basing every meal on plant foods—vegetables, fruits, grains (mostly whole), beans, seeds, nuts, spices and olive oil—for maximum healthfulness. A variety of such whole foods, working in synergy, provides health benefits that individual nutrients, such as beta-carotene or fiber, can’t deliver. Interestingly, herbs and spices are included for the first time due to their dominant role in the Mediterranean flavor profile.

Next on the pyramid are fish, recommended at least twice a week, along with small portions of eggs, yogurt, cheese and poultry. Sweets and meat are limited to once in a while. In addition to regular water consumption, a daily glass of wine with meals, for adults only, is included. The pyramid stresses the importance of physical activity and eating with family and friends.

Oldways registered dietitian Nicki Haverling says there’s high interest in the Mediterranean Diet, but admits there’s little understanding of what foods comprise it. She says people are often surprised that both the Mediterranean and Western diets contain similar foods, but in different proportions—with meats and sweets eaten in smaller amounts and less often in a Mediterranean Diet.

Pediatrician Alan Greene, assistant clinical professor at Stanford Medical School, presented on why children thrive on the Mediterranean Diet. He contends"we should erase the idea that there should be a separate kids’ menu” especially in restaurants. Children should be raised eating adult foods. He cited how mothers in other countries give their young children the same food the rest of the family is eating without judgment. They don’t say,"This is good for you.”

Conference highlights

•The Med Diet can have a big impact on the prevention and treatment of three common childhood maladies: asthma, ADHD and type 2 diabetes.

•Historically, people ate a lot of fish because it was cheap—or free. It takes a lot of resources to raise livestock.

•The best extra virgin olive oils burn the back of your throat—a sign they contain health-promoting polyphenols.

•Breastfeeding moms should eat spicy foods so baby learns to like them.

•To eat the Med way, learn how to prepare vegetables and legumes. Cook them in olive oil and add onion, garlic, tomatoes and herbs. Fat adds flavor and can make them tastier, even for avowed vegetable-haters.

The Med Diet is a delicious way to serve up good nutrition regardless of your ethnic roots. Mangia!

Ask Good Sense Eating

Fresh fruits and vegetables cost a lot of money. Isn’t a Mediterranean Diet more expensive than eating fast foods?

Actually, a Mediterranean Diet is inexpensive. It used to be looked down upon, a"peasant diet.” Buying out-of-season foods and processed foods is expensive. It is possible to enjoy a healthy, delicious Mediterranean Diet on a fast food budget:

•Choose fruits and vegetables that are in season. A watermelon in July costs less than in February. If you need a certain ingredient that’s not in season, don’t forget about frozen and canned varieties.

•Build your meals around legumes and whole grains, which are less expensive but nutritious sources of protein, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.

•Buy frozen seafood or canned salmon for an affordable way to enjoy fish and seafood.

Pita Pizza

Ingredients4 large whole grain pita rounds2/3 jar spaghetti sauce8 ounces mozzarella cheese4 cups mixed vegetables

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread one quarter of the sauce on each pita round. If using chopped fresh spinach, add it now, before the cheese, to keep it from drying out. Top with cheese, divided between the four pizzas, and then vegetables. Tip: Kids love to decorate their own pizzas. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes on a pizza pan or cookie sheet.

Option: Add small bits of Italian turkey or chicken sausage.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe courtesy of Cynthia Harriman

Nutrition facts per serving: 430 calories, 56 g carbohydrate, 23 g protein, 14 g fat, (7 g saturated fat), 0 g trans fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 9 g dietary fiber, 1,100 mg sodium, 35% DV vitamin A, 70% DV vitamin C, 50% calcium, 20% DV iron

Christine M. Palumbo, RD, grew up with Italian and Greek parents, so this way of eating is mostly second nature to her. She can be reached at (630) 369-8495 or Chris@ChristinePalumbo.com.

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