Many dietitians, chefs and environmentalists would agree that a Mediterranean diet is one of the best in the world. The diet includes traditional foods from countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. There is an emphasis on plant-based foods such as grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds and oils, as well as wine and small portions of seafood, poultry, meat and cheese.
Research on the Mediterranean diet started over 50 years ago by Ancel Keys and colleagues who examined the health outcomes of more than 13,000 middle-aged men in the popular Seven Countries Study. They learned that those from the Greek island of Crete had lower cardiovascular disease than those in other countries.
Since this study, not only has the Mediterranean diet been shown in multiple research studies to improve heart disease and stroke risk, the diet may lower the risk of diabetes, obesity and even reduce cognitive decline as you age.
It has been proposed that the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are attributed to lowered oxidative stress and reduced inflammation that are at the core of chronic disease. The unsaturated “good fats” found in Mediterranean foods and rich emphasis on plants provide plenty of fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals for health.
5 Mediterranean diet meal-planning tips
1. Don’t be fat phobic!
There is no need. Removing healthy fats out of your diet will do more harm than good. Research supports it is the type of fat that is most important to focus on. Healthy and tasty fats prevalent in the Mediterranean diet include olive oil, nuts, seeds and fish, which are good to eat regularly.
2. Boost your veggies!
The Mediterranean diet includes a wide variety of veggies and fruits. Try something new such as eggplant, arugula and broccoli rabe. They are all loaded with phytonutrients to prevent cancer and heart disease. Try grilled eggplant slices brushed with olive oil and garlic on the barbecue. Try arugula on a mushroom pizza or as a salad with a lemon and olive oil vinaigrette. Try broccoli rabe sautéed or roasted with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and topped with toasted nuts.
3. Mix up your grains
While some popular fad diets suggest eliminating grains, wheat or carbohydrates from your diet for health or weight loss, scientific evidence does not support this. In fact, the Mediterranean diet includes ample amounts of carbohydrates and grains (including a mix of both whole grains, as well as “white foods” — or refined grains — such as white bread, white pasta and couscous). Try something new such as barley, millet, or a multi-grain pasta like Barilla PLUS that contains added protein, fibre and omega 3. Toss these grains with fresh herbs, olive oil, veggies and a lean protein for a great Mediterranean salad for lunch or supper.
4. Sensible portions of seafood and meats
If you like fish and seafood, these are great additions to your weekly suppers. Choose small portions of meat, poultry and cheese for protein. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes a plant-based diet, which is not only good for you, but it is also good for the environment. Try protein rich choices such as beans, legumes and chick peas served in a salad, soup or bean dip.
5. Share and Connect
How we eat is as important as what we eat. In true Mediterranean style, a good meal is often accompanied with a glass of wine and the company of family or friends at a slower pace to truly savour the food.
Here is a recipe to enjoy with family or friends!
Rotini with Fresh Tomatoes, Aromatic Herb Pesto & Ricotta Salata
Source: Barilla PLUS
1 pound Barilla PLUS Rotini
8 tablespoons (10 cl.) extra virgin olive oil
4 plum tomatoes, diced
1 clove garlic
3 sprigs marjoram
3 sprigs oregano
6 leaves basil
1 tablespoon (25 leaves) parsley
3 sprigs thyme
½ cup (60 grams) walnuts
To taste salt
To taste black pepper
½ cup (60 grams) ricotta salata, shredded
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a large skillet, sauté tomatoes in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, combine all dry ingredients in blender. Pulse for 10 seconds or until finely chopped.
Drizzle in olive oil slowly to create the pesto. Place pesto in bowl and add ½ cup pasta cooking liquid. Drain pasta and toss with pesto and tomatoes. Top with shredded cheese.