Med-Diet: What a Healthy Diet Looks Like

By My Duong 
Dietetic Intern

If you heard someone say they are on the Med-diet, what would your first thought be? It might sound like a diet that involves taking a lot of medicine or pills, but it’s actually much different. Med-diet is an abbreviation for Mediterranean diet, which is inspired by dietary patterns from Greece, Southern Italy, and Spain. When prepared correctly, the Med-diet provides a great combination of taste, nutrition and health benefits.

What is a Mediterranean diet?

The Med-diet was first developed by Ancel Keys in the 1960s. Keys based the diet on his observations of what he saw people in the Mediterranean region eating. Med-diet emphasizes a high consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts. In this diet, olive oil is a main source of fat. Additionally, Med-dieters usually have a moderation of wine, especially red wine, and moderate-to-high lean protein intake of poultry and fish. The Med-diet limits red meat and processed food consumption.

Health Benefits from a Med-Diet

med1Weight loss: Med-diet includes a lot of fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which makes you feel full longer and eat less. Many of these same Med-diet foods are naturally low in calories. Fewer calories and feeling full longer means less weight gain!

Improvement in blood sugar level: Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic inflammatory disease. Unlike other diets, the Med-diet uses fresh herbs and spices to season foods – and the upside is that they are natural anti-inflammatories. Thus, many people who follow a Med-diet experience improved blood sugar levels with their Type 2 Diabetes. Moreover, research has shown that people following Med-diet are less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes in general.

Improvement in lipid profile: Research consistently links high consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish, and olive oil – all components of the Med-diet – to high levels of monounsaturated fat.  Remember: monounsaturated fats are the ‘good’ fats that our bodies need!  Better yet, many Med-diet foods have also been linked to low levels of saturated and trans fats in the blood.  Saturated and trans fats contribute to risk of heart disease.  Clearly, Med-diet foods are a great choice when it comes to how they affect fat levels in the blood.

Reduced disease risk: Studies have found that eating too much processed food can increase the risk of colon cancer. Because the Med-diet limits processed food consumption, many people who follow it lessen their risk of colon cancer and other chronic disease.

How to Incorporate the Med-Diet into your Meal Plan

med2

  • Whole Grains: Eat at least one serving of whole grains each day. Try to limit less healthy grains, such as processed and refined grains.
  • Fruits: The Med-diet is rich in fresh and seasonal fruits. In spring, apricots, melons and oranges are great options!
  • Vegetables: Add more vegetables, especially dark, leafy greens like spinach, kale and broccoli.
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products: Low-fat Greek yogurt is the perfect dairy complement for a Med-diet.
  • Nuts, seeds, and legumes: Spice up your salad with walnuts or flaxseed.  Nuts are a great snack choice!
  • Fats and oils: For your primary cooking oil, use extra virgin olive oil.
  • Fish: Aim for at least two servings of fish a week. If you are worried about the price of fish (which can be expensive), remember that canned fish is a nutritious and inexpensive alternative. (Be sure to purchase canned fish packed in water.)
  • Lean meats and poultry: If you eat meat and poultry every day, consider scaling back. With the Med-diet, these protein sources are typically eaten 2-3 times a week.
  • Sweets and added sugars: Try to eat fewer sweets and foods/beverages with added sugar. The Med-diet includes little sugar.
  • Sodium (mainly found in table salt and sea salt): Use spices and herbs to bring out the flavor in your foods instead of salt. In particular, many nutritional experts recommend using antioxidant herbs and spices such as garlic, onions, dill, oregano and curry powder in your cooking.  Antioxidants can help our body fight off damage to cells and reduce cancer risk.
  • Alcohol: If someone following the Med-diet chooses to drink, they usually limit themselves to moderate amounts of red wine – no more than two drinks per day, but typically limited to one.

 

Sample Menu

Breakfast Whole grain oatmeal and low-fat Greek yogurt with fruits and nuts***(Find our recipe here)
Lunch Mustard-crusted salmon served with roasted garlic lemon broccoli ***(Recipe found below)
Dinner Tuna salad on wheat bread with a handful of fresh baby spinach***(Find our recipe here)
Snack (optional) Roasted sweet onion dip with veggies (your choice) or crackers ( Use whole grain and low sodium crackers)***(Recipe below)

Note: Don’t forget to drink water throughout the day! Any healthy diet always needs plenty of water. To boost your metabolism and antioxidant intake, add some fresh lemon wedges or sliced cucumbers to your drinks.

Bottom line

There is no one diet that fits everyone, but in general, everyone can consider healthier choices. The Med-diet provides a great examples of how foods you already love can contribute to healthier eating. Whether you use ideas from the Med-diet or try to follow all of its suggestions, you are ultimately the person who makes your own diet.  Remember: You are what you eat!


Recipes

Mustard-crusted Salmonmed4
(Recipe adapted from www.eatingwell.com)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 pounds center-cut salmon fillets, cut into 4 portions
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons ground mustard
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • Lemon wedges
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat broiler. Line a broiler pan or baking sheet with foil, then coat it with cooking spray.
  2. Place salmon pieces, skin-side down, on the prepared pan. Season with salt and pepper. Combine sour cream, mustard and lemon juice in a small bowl. Spread evenly over the salmon.
  3. Broil the salmon 5 inches from the heat source until it is opaque in the center, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

Roasted Garlic Lemon Broccoli

med5(Recipe adapted from www.allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

  • 2 heads broccoli, separated into florets
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • A pinch of salt or sea salt

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, toss broccoli florets with the extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, pepper and garlic. Spread the broccoli out in an even layer on a baking sheet.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven until florets are tender enough to pierce the stems with a fork, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove and transfer to a serving platter. Squeeze lemon juice liberally over the broccoli before serving for a refreshing, tangy finish.

Roasted Sweet Onion Dip

med6(Recipe adapted from www.myrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

  • 2 large sweet onions, peeled and quartered
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 whole garlic head
  • 1/3 cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Salt to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 4250
  2. Place onion in a large bowl; drizzle with oil. Sprinkle salt; toss to coat. Remove white papery skin from garlic head (do not peel or separate cloves). Wrap in foil. Place onion and foil-wrapped garlic on a baking sheet. Bake at 425° for 1 hour; cool 10 minutes. Chop onion. Separate garlic cloves; squeeze to extract garlic pulp. Discard skins.
  3. Combine onion, garlic, sour cream, parsley, and lemon juice in a large bowl. Cover and chill 1 hour.

References:

Benson G, Pereira RF, Boucher JL. Rationale for the use of a Mediterranean diet in diabetes management. Diabetes Spectrum 2011;24(1):36-40.

Kastorini CM, Panagiotakos DB. Mediterranean diet and diabetes prevention: Myth or fact? World J Diabetes 2010;1(3):65-67. doi:10.4239/wjd.vl.i3.65.

The InterAct Consortium. Mediterranean diet and type 2 diabetes risk in the European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition (EPIC) study: The InterAct project. Diabetes Care. 2011;34(9):1913-1918. doi:10.2337/dc11-0891.

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801

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