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"Med up" your diet! You don't have to live near the Mediterranean Sea to gain the benefits of this healthy diet; just power up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil and fish.


Fresh-cooked pasta tossed with olive oil, basil, garlic and tomatoes ... local fish grilled with lemon and capers ... fresh figs and pistachios for dessert ... a glass of red wine ... It sounds easy and delicious, right'? This style of eating is the very foundation of the Mediterranean diet, the traditional diet in at least 16 countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, including Italy, Spain, Greece and Morocco.

Health benefits aplenty. The Mediterranean diet has been the subject of intensive research for more than 50 years, ever since Ancel Keys, Ph.D., a professor from the University of Minnesota, undertook his legendary, post-World War II Seven Countries Study, which examined the health outcomes of nearly 13,000 middle-aged men in the U.S., Japan, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, Finland and what was then Yugoslavia (now broken up into seven countries, including Croatia and Serbia). His research team found that men from the island of Crete experienced lower cardiovascular disease rates than their counterparts in other countries--a link they attributed to the men's postwar "poor diet, which focused on fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and fish.

"The Mediterranean diet is a traditional diet that evolved over 5,000 years. It was developed by people who used local resources and prepared food from almost nothing. It was shaped by the regional environment, culture and religious habits. People always believed that the Mediterranean diet was good for you, but it hadn't been documented before. It is a way of living--it respects the environment and religions. The focus is on seasonal foods, traditional options and local products," reported Antonia Trichopoulou, M.D., Ph.D., professor at the University of Athens and one of the leading Mediterranean diet researchers, at the International Mediterranean Diet Symposium in Pantelleria, Italy on September 12,2012.

Since Keys's first observation decades ago, hundreds of studies have documented the array of health benefits linked with the Mediterranean diet, including increased life span, healthy weight; improved brain function, improved symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, fertility and eye health; lower risks of certain cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes; and lower levels of blood pressure and LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

Kathy McManus, M.S., R.D., Director of the Nutrition Department at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, highlighted some of the major clinical findings at the symposium. "The Lyon Diet Heart Trial in 1998 showed that after three years on the Mediterranean diet subjects had a 56 percent lower risk of dying and 70 percent lower risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack). In the Gissi Prevenzione Trial in Italy, which involved more than 11,000 men and women, the diet was associated with a 50 percent reduced death rate. In the SUN study in Spain, results showed a 30 percent reduced risk associated with the Mediterranean diet. Now the diet is the medical standard for weight loss in diabetes," she reported.

The secret behind the Med diet. A major factor behind the benefits of the diet appears to be a reduction in inflammation and oxidative stress--the root of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. The diet is high in whole plant foods, which have an abundance of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and rich in healthy fats, such as the monounsaturated fats found in olive oil and nuts, and omega-3 fatty acids in fish.

Beyond borders. The benefits of the Mediterranean diet aren't confined to the sunny region around the Mediterranean Sea. The positive effects of the diet have been documented by researchers in various populations around the world, from Sweden to the UK. But how can you adapt the Med diet in your own home town? It's simple; just apply some of the Med diet characteristics to your own diet, such as powering up on whole grains, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, olives, fruits and vegetables, and fish. Try some of our strategies to "Med-ify" your everyday meals. EN


White bagel with cream      Whole grain bagel half with smoked
cheese                      salmon, cucumbers, capers and chives

Scrambled eggs, bacon and   Scrambled egg and black beans with com
pancakes                    tortilla and salsa

Pastrami sandwich with      Whole wheat pita with hummus, feta
potato chips                cheese, sprouts, tomatoes and parsley

Chef's salad with Thousand  Kale salad with kidney beans, almonds,
Island dressing and a       avocado, and olive oil herb vinaigrette
French roll

Steak, rice pilaf and       Grilled salmon, quinoa with cumin,
green beans                 sauteed green beans and carrots

Fried chicken, mashed       Whole wheat pasta tossed with chicken,
potatoes, coleslaw and      mushrooms, spinach, basil and olive oil

RELATED ARTICLE: Portrait of the Mediterranean Diet

Researchers have identified the following characteristics of the traditional Med diet:

* Each meal includes vegetables, fruits and grains--the majority of grains are consumed in their whole, minimally processed form, such as wheat, oats, rice, rye, barley and corn.

* Olives and olive oil are the principal fat. Olives are eaten whole and in dishes and olive oil is the main fat in the kitchen.

* Nuts, beans, legumes and seeds are regular features. From lentils and chick peas to walnuts and sesame seeds, these foods--rich in protein and healthy fats--are an important part of the diet.

* Herbs and spices are used liberally, for added flavor and a potent boost of health-promoting antioxidants.

* Cheese and yogurt are eaten in moderation; milk consumption is low.

* Fish and shellfish take priority, such as tuna, herring, sardines, salmon, mussels, clams and shrimp. Eggs are included routinely, in place of meat in traditional dishes.

* Meat is eaten in small amounts, with moderate portions of poultry.

* Sweets are eaten in small amounts, and consumed less frequently.

* Wine is enjoyed in moderation--up to one five ounce glass per day for women and up to two five-ounce glasses for men.

* Water is the beverage of choice instead of sweetened beverages.

* Portion size is under control at each meal time.

* Moderation is key. The diet includes a balanced approach to enjoying foods, such as wine and treats.

* Meals are enjoyed with others. Food, drinks and meals are savored with family and friends.

* Daily physical activity is a component, whether strenuous exercise such as biking and hiking or leisurely activities like walking and gardening.

RELATED ARTICLE: A Mediterranean Shopping List

* Fish and shellfish: clams, crab, halibut, lobster, mussels, salmon, scallops, shrimp, sole, tilapia, trout, tuna

* Fruits (fresh, dried, frozen, or canned without sugar): apples, bananas, berries, cherries, citrus, dates, figs, grapes, melons, nectarines, peaches, pears, pomegranates

* Vegetables (fresh, frozen, or canned without salt): artichokes, asparagus, avocados, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, corn (sweet yellow), cucumbers, eggplant, fennel, green beans, green leafy vegetables, lettuce, mushrooms, olives, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, squash, tomatoes, turnips

* Grains: barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, couscous, faro, kamut, oatmeal, polenta, quinoa, wheat berries; whole grain or stone-ground breads, rolls, tortillas, and pasta

* Legumes, nuts, and seeds: almonds, black-eyed peas, cashews, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), hazelnuts, kidney beans, lentils, lima beans, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, split peas, walnuts

* Herbs and spices (fresh or dried): basil, chili powder, chilies, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, dill, garlic, ginger, fennel seed, marjoram, mint, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, pepper (black or red), rosemary, saffron, sage, tarragon, thyme

* Dairy products: low-fat yogurt, reduced-fat cheese

* Oils: extra-virgin olive, grapeseed, and sesame

--Sharon Palmer R. D.
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Author:Palmer, Sharon
Publication:Environmental Nutrition
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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