Med Month — Enjoy the Mediterranean Food Plan

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Happy #MedMonth! May has been declared Med Month for those of you that didn’t already know. The Med Way, as we refer to it in Extension, is the Mediterranean-style eating plan that has been proven to promote health and decrease risk for many common chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. The Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating — plus a splash of flavorful olive oil and perhaps a glass of red wine — among other components characterizing the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Eating the Mediterranean way is not only healthy, but it is also delicious and satisfying. Foods that were once thought of as too high in fat or unhealthy including nuts, olive oil, olives, and whole grains can become a part of your daily diet.

Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, and it has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol that’s more likely to build up deposits in your arteries. In fact, a meta-analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality as well as overall mortality.

The Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced incidence of chronic disease such as cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. It has also been proven that women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Eating primarily plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil.
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month.
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week.
  • Enjoying meals with family and friends.
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional).
  • Getting plenty of exercise.

Because the Mediterranean diet is so delicious and healthy, many people who switch to this style of eating say they’ll never eat any other way. Here are some specific steps to get you started:

  • Eat your fruits and vegetables — and switch to whole grains. An abundance and variety of plant foods should make up the majority of your meals. Strive for seven to ten servings a day of fruits and veggies. Switch to whole-grain bread, crackers, rice, pasta, and cereal.
  • Go nuts. Keep almonds, cashews, pistachios, and walnuts on hand for a quick snack. Choose natural peanut butter rather than the kind with hydrogenated fat added.
  • Pass on the butter. Try olive or canola oil as a healthy replacement for butter and/or margarine. Use it in cooking, dip bread in flavored olive oil or lightly spread it on whole-grain bread for a tasty alternative to butter.
  • Spice it up. Herbs and spices make food tasty and are also rich in health-promoting substances. Season your meals with herbs and spices rather than salt.
  • Go fish. Eat fish once or twice a week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, and herring are healthy choices. Grilled fish tastes good and requires little cleanup. Avoid fried fish unless it’s sautéed in a small amount of olive oil.
  • Rein in the red meat. Substitute fish and poultry for red meat. When eaten, make sure it’s lean and keep portions small. Also avoid sausage, bacon and other high-fat meats.
  • Choose low-fat dairy. Limit higher fat dairy products such as whole or 2% milk, cheese, and ice cream. Switch to skim milk, fat-free yogurt, and low-fat cheese.
  • Raise a glass to healthy eating. If it’s OK with your doctor, have a glass of wine at dinner. If you don’t drink alcohol, you don’t need to start. Drinking purple grape juice may be an alternative to wine.

Tips

For more tips on eating the Mediterranean way, click here:

Mediterranean Diet Handout

Additional resources for eating the Med way, as well as Med recipes can be found at the Med Instead of Meds website. For information on the Med instead of Meds way of eating, contact Toi N. Degree, Family & Consumer Education Agent with North Carolina State University & North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Toi may be reached by phone at 704-216-8970 or by email at toi_degree@ncsu.edu.