Is it any coincidence that the Italian greeting â€œCiao!â€ is pronounced like our English word for “eat up”: chow?
Perhaps I’m reaching here.
But I just returned last week from a wonderful trip to Italy, soaking up all the local cultureâ€”from visiting churches that still stand beyond any imaginable expectations to experiencing the popular drink, the Spritz (a yummy drink made from Prosecco, Aperol and club soda; see the recipe here). I’m still basking in the experience, feeling a whole lot more enriched by the grandeur and beauty of the country and the relaxed pace of the Italiansâ€”with the taste of the incredibly fresh and wholesome food lingering on my palate.
Gotta love that healthy Mediterranean style of eating: a healthy meal enjoyed surrounded by family and friendsâ€”incomparable.
I’ve always been a devotee of healthy eating. Vegetables? I love them all (with the possible exception of okra. Anyone out there to convince me it’s good?). I never met a watermelon, nectarine or piece of fruit I didn’t like. Fish, with its tender, succulent flesh and earthy flavor, pleases my palate more than does beef. And grains (farro’s my fave) and beans (yum, chickpeas) of all kinds win my affection. A handful of nuts here, a glass of red wine there, and I’m happy.
Turns out it’s no accident that the Mediterranean diet has been lauded for being a genuinely healthy way of eating. It incorporates all the basics of healthy eating: fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains. Add some olive oil and you’re onto something.
Not only has research shown the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, but it’s also proven to reduce the incidence of cancer and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
Here’s how it works. Imagine a pyramid. At the top (the smallest portion) are meats and sweets. Below that, poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt, which should be eaten in moderate portions, daily to weekly. Fish and seafood enjoy a wider berth; eat them often (at least two times a week). And then the pyramid opens up to bring in fruits, veggies, grains (mostly whole), olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, herbs and spices. Every meal you eat should be based on these foods.
What changes can you make in your diet to move closer to the Mediterranean style of eating?
Eat primarily plant-based foods (like fruits and vegetables), whole grains, legumes and nuts.
Replace butter with healthy fats, like olive oil (but remember: it may be healthy, but watch your quantities: 1 tablespoon has 119 calories).
Replace salt with herbs and spices to flavor foods.
Limit red meat consumption to a few times a month. Make sure it’s lean and keep the portions small. Avoid high-fat processed meats like bacon and sausage.
Eat fish and poultry at least twice each week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, mackerel, trout and herring are healthy options.
Make your grains whole grains. They contain all the essential parts and nutrients of the entire grain seed.
Drink red wine in moderation; no more than 5 ounces daily for women of all ages. (Teetotalers: this is totally optional! Grape juice and fresh grapes provide the same protective antioxidants found in wine.)
Eat bread either plain or dipped in olive oilâ€”not smeared with butter or margarine.
Enjoy nuts but watch the quantityâ€”though most of the fat in them is healthy, they do contain a lot of calories. Eat no more than a handful a day. Stay away from heavily salted, candied or honey-roasted varieties.
Include veggies and fruits in every meal. They also make easy and nutritious snacks between meals.
Make your dairy low fat. Switch to skim or fat-free milk and yogurt and low-fat cheeses.
If you’re curious about incorporating the Mediterranean diet into your lifestyle, here’s a gift to you. Leave a comment below, and one reader’s name will be chosen at random to win The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, published by Idiot’s Guides and written by Denise â€œDedeMedâ€ Hazime, who teaches how to cook through easy instructional videos on her website, Â This handy cookbook includes over 200 recipes and is a terrific guide to get you on the road to better and more balanced health through easy and fun methods. I can’t wait to try the Bulgur Chickpea Pilaf!
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