What Makes a Mediterranean Diet so Healthy?

What Makes a Mediterranean Diet so Healthy?

The mention of a Mediterranean diet gets me daydreaming of a relaxing lunch under a patio umbrella while watching sailboats on an aqua blue sea! But while most of us won’t be on the shores of the Mediterranean -- at least not every day, we can enjoy the delights of a seaside café any time!

If you’ve visited the countries of the region you may have noted that typical meals include fresh fruits and veggies, fish or lean meats, and whole grains. Olive oil is preferred over butter and saturated fats, and a glass of red wine accompanies many dinners. The key however, is not a specific list of foods but rather a lifestyle that includes smart food choices balanced with daily activity.

Try swapping red meats for fish and lean meats

In North America we tend to eat too much red meat with its not-so-healthy level of saturated fat and cholesterol. Try swapping red meats for fish, poultry or beans and whole grains -- aiming for no more than 2 to 3 servings of red meat per week. Broiled, grilled or baked wild salmon, fresh sardines and Atlantic mackerel all make a delicious main dish and are high in omega-3 fatty acids -- important to heart health. They are also rich in selenium, an antioxidant that studies have found offer additional protection to the arteries.

Add more veggies and fruits

Instead of using them as a side dish, aim to fill your plate with colorful combinations of your favorite veggies every day. Try claiming one ‘meatless’ day each week making legumes, soups and whole-grain your sources of protein and fiber. The dietary staff at many Canadian seniors communities are experts at coming up with creative and delicious ways to offer vegetarian menu selections.       

Feta - a delicious low fat cheese

Feta cheese is about a third lower than most cheeses in both fat and calories. Add black olives, cucumbers and a little olive oil to crumbled Feta and you have a delicious Greek salad! Feta cheese makes an omelet a delight and is a nice topping for grilled veggies. Feta can be high in sodium so don’t overdo it, but it’s so flavorful that a little goes a long way.      

A glass of red wine -- or red grapes

We’ve all heard the reports extolling the health benefits of red wine. The reason is that red wine contains antioxidant properties that help reduce cholesterol and protect against artery damage. Doctors and health care professionals however, are wary of recommending wine due to the potential damaging effects of the alcohol. The good news is that non-alcoholic red wine, dark berries and red grapes also contain the same healthy antioxidants!     

Olive oil

Olive oil is a healthy substitute for butter or margarine. Dip fresh multi-grain bread or dinner rolls in a combination of olive oil and red wine vinegar as an appetizer or as a side dish with a bowl of soup. Fresh pressed olive oil is especially delicious and it retains the natural flavors, vitamins and antioxidants of ripe olives. Olive oil is a monounsaturated (healthy) dietary fat that may help lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. As with all oils, it’s still high in calories -- the ‘healthy eating food pyramid’ recommends 5 to 6 teaspoons daily for women 6 to 7 teaspoons for men.

All of these typical components of a Mediterranean diet along with a dose of daily activity will equal a healthy lifestyle. Strive to get at least 30 minutes each day of exercise, and it doesn’t have to be all at one time. Break it up into three 10-minute segments of heart pumping, feel-good activity.

Written by Alice Lucette
Image by typofi of stock.xchng

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