Everyday Wellness: Living the Mediterranean Diet
Once again, the Mediterranean Diet is making news. In the largest randomized trial on this dietary regimen to date, researchers followed more than 7,400 people adhering to either a Mediterranean Diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, one supplemented with nuts, or a standard reduced-fat diet for approximately five years.
The findings, published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, give this style of eating even more credence â€” among people with high cardiovascular risk, the Mediterranean Diet lowered their rate of cardiovascular events.
So, how do you even begin to follow such a diet in the South? The answer is: One food at a time.
Here are three Mediterranean Diet foods you might consider increasing in your diet:
â€¢ First, there is likely a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil somewhere in the back of your cupboard. Letâ€™s start there. If youâ€™re like most Americans, you simply donâ€™t use it enough. Throw it out. Itâ€™s too old
The nutrients in olive oil degrade substantially in just six months. After one year, the oil is essentially worthless. Go out and buy a new bottle of extra-virgin olive oil. (Keep in mind that the color does not reflect its worth or the amount of monounsaturated fatty acids it contains.)
Begin to substitute olive oil for butter, lard, saturated oils and other fats. Add it to sauces and salads. If you apply heat to it, be careful to keep the heat low to moderate. If the oil begins to smoke in the pan, throw it out and start again. Store your oil in a cool, dark location as light and heat accelerates its degradation.
â€¢ Second, begin adding more tomatoes to your meals. Tomatoes contain all four major health-promoting carotenoids (antioxidants). A diet rich in tomatoes has been associated with a reduced risk of both prostate and pancreatic cancer.
Iâ€™ve traveled to Italy no less than 30 times in the past 10 years. Do you know how many Italians Iâ€™ve come across who make the terribly unhealthy dish we call Fettuccini Alfredo? None. Thatâ€™s how many. But they all have their own tomato sauce and rarely does a day go by that they donâ€™t eat tomatoes in some form.
Hereâ€™s something unique about tomatoes. We usually expect nutrients to break down when heated. But a tomatoâ€™s lycopene â€” an especially powerful antioxidant â€” actually becomes more easily absorbed when itâ€™s heated. So, go ahead and let that tomato sauce simmer away.
â€¢ Finally, another interesting aspect of this recent study was that both Mediterranean Diets resulting in health protection contained more than seven glasses of wine per week. This is consistent with the results of other studies.
We simply do not know exactly how wine â€” particularly red wine â€” contributes to this cardio-protection. This effect may be related to the polyphenols in wine known as resveratrol or to the ability of small amounts of alcohol to raise high-density lipoproteins. In any case, because the protection is seen in red wine more than white it can be theorized that resveratrol has something to do; this polyphenol is found in the skins of grapes (in the process of making red wine, the skins come in contact with the juice).
But before you go on a wine-buying spree, please keep two things in mind. Some people have a problem with alcohol and the damage from their drinking would far outweigh any potential cardio-protection. So, first, be honest with yourself about your ability to handle alcohol.
Second, remember, a glass of wine is 5 ounces. Measure it. Itâ€™s not as much as you may think!
Start with these simple adjustments, begin to look for Mediterranean Diet foods in our local grocery stores, and soon you will see how easy it is to experience the Mediterranean culture and its health benefits right here in the Lowcountry.
Bob LeFavi, Ph.D., is Professor of Health Sciences at Armstrong Atlantic State. He has written more than 500 articles on nutrition, fitness and weight management for international health and fitness magazines.
Bob LeFAVI | Savannah Morning News