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The Mediterranean Diet:
What You Need to Know About Eating the Mediterranean Way to Be Healthy
By Cindy Crowninshield,RDN, LDN, HHC
We asked local registered dietitian Cindy Crowninshield to explain the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Here’s what she had to say…
Thinking of the Mediterranean reminds me of stunning vacation destinations such as Greece. The Mediterranean is also a place where you will find one of the world’s healthiest diets. Don’t assume “diet” means a list of approved or banned foods that you need to follow or memorize. The Mediterranean diet is very simple, comprising natural, wholesome foods like fresh vegetables, fresh fish, fruit, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil. There is a lot of research to prove the Mediterranean diet is incredibly healthy and key to staying healthy. It’s great that Farm Grill & Rotisserie’s Mediterranean menu empowers diners on their own journey toward better health.
Eating the Mediterranean way provides several health benefits. The first benefit, depending on your food choices and how you prepare them like steaming as opposed to frying, can provide you with less calories, less salt, less added sugar, and less saturated/trans fat. The second benefit increases your intake of fiber, vitamins and minerals when eating more whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. The third benefit can lower your risk of health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, cancer, and neurological disorders.
In my nutrition practice, I see patients with symptoms related to these conditions including hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, brain tumor, and hypertension. My patient will express interest in following the Mediterranean diet because they heard it’s healthy and will help them reduce and/or eliminate symptoms. Most don’t know what the diet entails. Since they are unsure about the diet, where to start and what foods to include, we have a conversation. We discuss foods and ingredients that are included like olive oil, whole grains, vegetables in a variety of colors, protein choices (chicken, fish, lean beef or lamb), and legumes like chickpeas. We talk about simple, realistic ways to incorporate these foods daily like cooking from recipes or purchasing healthy convenience to-go options. Farm Grill offers items that align with this dietary plan, such as grilled mixed vegetables or grilled red pepper salad.
While discussing foods to include, we focus on the importance of balancing fat intake as one of the foundations of a healthful diet. Goals are to avoid trans fats as much as possible, eat less saturated fats, and eat more unsaturated fats. Trans fats are found in many processed and convenience foods. Saturated fat is found in fatty meat, butter, ice cream, coconut oil, cream and some cheeses. Unsaturated fat, like monounsaturated fat, is found in fish, avocado, nuts, and oils like sunflower and olive oil. When eaten in moderation, consuming monounsaturated fats in place of saturated and trans fat can have a beneficial effect on your heart. Monounsaturated fat is tied to cholesterol regulation in the blood, promoting healthy cardiovascular function, and reducing hypertension. Monounsaturated fats are at the heart of the Mediterranean diet and a staple of Farm Grill’s menu. Research studies that have examined the impact of olive oil on heart health have found it to be beneficial.
Another foundation to a healthful diet is maintaining adequate nutrient intake, like omega-3 fatty acids, sodium, calcium, protein, and phosphorus, on a daily basis. In helping my patients understand what this means, I have a mechanism to analyze what they eat and provide a precise report on the macro and micro-nutrients they take in. We review gaps that exist and foods to add to make up these gaps. If a patient is low on omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, protein or phosphorous, they can eat olive oil, fish, and feta to provide these important nutrients. We review nutrients that exceed daily intake levels and discuss ways to adjust. If a patient thinks they are eating under the recommended 2,300 mg of sodium a day and the analysis is showing otherwise, we discuss using herbs and spices like garlic instead of salt to flavor foods. Garlic is useful in improving the immune system and heart function, and is found in Farm Grill menu items like eggplant salad.
A good first step in pulling this all together is remembering to keep it simple. Do you eat vegetables? Fresh fish? Fresh fruit? Whole grains? Legumes? Olive oil? If your daily eating doesn’t contain any of these items, pick one and experiment with it. Keep adding new items in small quantities until you establish good habits and routines around food choices. You can also get help by working with your healthcare provider to co-create a tailored plan just for you. Eating the Mediterranean way is delicious and healthy. Many people I know who adopt this style of eating see health benefits immediately. They say they are destined to eat this way and will never eat any other way.
Cindy Crowninshield, RDN, LDN, HHC is a licensed registered dietitian and nutrition educator in private practice. Her office is located in Southborough, Massachusetts and she sees patients from the Metrowest area including Newton and Needham. Cindy empowers patients of all ages to organize themselves in health and wellness through a whole foods approach and making healthy lifestyle changes. Visit www.CindyCrowninshield.com for more information.
References and Recommended Readings
Estruch R, et al. Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet Supplemented with Extra-Virgin Olive Oil or Nuts. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2018; 378:e34.
Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process, 14th ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2017.
Meat, Poultry, and Fish: Picking Healthy Proteins. American Heart Association website.
Mediterranean Diet Photos. https://www.pexels.com/search/mediterranean%20diet/. Accessed December 10, 2018.
Pallauf K, et al. Nutrition and Healthy Ageing: Calorie Restriction or Polyphenol-Rich “MediterrAsian” Diet. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. 2013:707421, 2013.
Reboredo-Rodríguez P, et al. Phenolic Compounds Isolated from Olive Oil as Nutraceutical Tools for the Prevention and Management of Cancer and Cardiovascular Diseases. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2018; 19(8):2305.
Toledo E, et al. Effect of the Mediterranean Diet on Blood Pressure in the PREDIMED Trial: Results from a Randomized Controlled Trial. BMC Medicine. 2013; 11:207.
USDA National Nutrient Database. https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/. Accessed December 8, 2018.