The small fishing villages, olive trees, and multitudinous vegetables along with the easy and relaxed meal times are enough to convince many of the benefits and ease of the Mediterranean diet. The diet uses the cuisines bordering the Mediterranean Sea: France, Spain, Italy, Greece or Middle Eastern countries. Yet it is not one cuisine specific to one country. It is characteristic of similar terroir between these countries, and from it is borne an endless variety of delicious options.
Mediterranean diets include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, and substitute oils such as olive and canola instead of butter. Foods are flavored with herbs and spices instead of salt, and the diet includes more fish and chicken and less red meat.
The other attraction to this style of eating is drinking red wine, in moderation of course. The wine speaks about the manner in which food is eaten. European meals are longer and more relaxed. They are something to be enjoyed with friends and family. A meal is not to be had at a drive-through window or eaten standing up. The long, slow enjoyment of food creates less hunger and eating in the long-term. The natural, unprocessed ingredients also help Europeans maintain healthier weights than Americans.
"Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. In fact, a recent analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of overall and cardiovascular mortality, a reduced incidence of cancer and cancer mortality, and a reduced incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases," the Mayo Clinic website stated.
The wonderful thing about the Mediterranean diet is that it is not necessarily focused on restricting fats or carbohydrates. It is about making better choices. Instead of saturated fats such as butter and cheese, use olive and canola oil or avocado. For example, when making a sandwich, use a fresh, whole-grain bread with avocado instead of white bread with mayonnaise. The bakery at Whole Foods Market in Town and Country provides many different types of 100 percent whole-grain options.
From Dr. Oz to the Mayo Clinic, doctors are touting the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. "It's good for your joints, skin, vision, brain, heart, helps lower bad cholesterol levels and even boosts fertility. It's an anti-ager and an anti-inflammatory. It's found naturally in a variety of delicious foods including walnuts, salmon, tuna, olive oil and avocados," Dr. Oz stated on his website.
For dinner, consider oven-baked fish with a walnut crust instead of deep-fried white fish. Dierbergs and Schnucks in Manchester and Whole Foods Market, Straub's, and Schnucks in Town and Country offer a great variety of fresh fish and olive oil. Whole Foods sells a variety of nuts in bulk to eat as a snack or use in cooking.
Hummus is also a great choice, containing tahini (sesame paste) which also contains omega-3 fatty acids. Hummus also contains chickpeas (also know as garbanzo beans), which are high in fiber and protein. Salam Market and Mideast Market in Manchester sell tahini as well as pita bread for the recipes below.
The largest chunk of the Mediterranean diet is plant-based foods—fruits and vegetables, delicious, limitless fruits and vegetables. Keep your refrigerator stocked with peaches, plums, nectarines, strawberries, blueberries, apples, bananas as well as broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, spinach and kale. Use herbs to bring flavor and brightness to dishes as well.
Different combinations of all of these foods and others make up the Mediterranean diet, yet all of the dishes can be distinct.
2 cups chickpeas, cooked or canned and drained
1/3 cup tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon chili oil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
- Place the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, salt and garlic in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. You may need to add additional water or lemon juice to blend the chickpeas.
- Transfer mixture to a serving bowl. Drizzle olive oil over the garbanzo bean mixture and serve.*
*Serve with warm pita bread, diced tomatoes, sliced onions and lettuce. Another great Mediterranean dish is falafel. Falafel is a patty or ball made from ground chickpeas with spices and deep fried. Falafel is also served with pita or flatbread and the same toppings as hummus. Tahini sauces are usually served over the falafel as well. The falafel mix at the local stores is fine, but if you are feeling adventurous there are recipes to make the patties from scratch.
2 garlic cloves
coarse salt, to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup water, as needed
- Place garlic, parsely, olive oil and an initial amount of salt in a food processor.
- Add tahini and lemon juice to mixture and blend.
- Use water or lemon juice as needed to bring mixture to desired consistency.
- Season with salt to taste.