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August 7, 2013

Eating the Mediterranean Diet Way (and no, it's not a diet)

The Mediterranean diet is: FC_content_IMG_med_diet

  1. A diet that helps you lose weight by drinking Mediterranean Sea water for three days.
  2. A diet that helps you lose weight by rubbing olive oil on your stomach.
  3. Confusing to Americans who can’t quite place the Mediterranean but know that it’s out there somewhere.
  4. Not a diet but a lifestyle.

If you answered #3, you’re an honest soul, since most Americans aren’t exactly sure where they are, let alone anyone else.

If you answered #4, you’re on the fast track to good health. Although the Mediterranean diet has been touted for years, there’s still a lot of confusion. People hear the word “diet” and they zone out. But this is one diet worth separating the wheat from the chaff.

The Mediterranean diet is composed of the foods –olive oil, fish, nuts, fruits, veggies, beans and whole grains – prevalent in many of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. Predominantly it draws from the cuisines of Crete, Greece, Italy, France and Spain. It’s considered a lifestyle because many of the folks in places such as Greece and Italy savor their food, instead of eating as if they’re competing at Nathan’s Hot Dog contest. And, of course, it’s not really a diet – the latter of which implies something you can’t wait to deep six so you can eat your Doritos.

Which is not to say that people of the region are not obese – western influence, anyone?- but setting that aside, there’s scientific proof that the Mediterranean diet with its olive oil and nuts is important to heart health. In fact, a study of almost 7,500 people in Spain, published by The New England Journal of Medicine in April 2013, found that the diet was so valuable in lowering the risk of heart disease that researchers stopped the trials early out of fairness to the control group.

Drawing from the Mediterranean diet, the health conscious are embracing some of the dishes that have wide appeal to American tastes. Two words: Greek yogurt. And it ain’t over yet with all those untapped uses for it like salad dressings and desserts. And you may not eat a bowl of garbanzo beans, but hummus? We can’t get enough of it.

Here are some other foods based on the Mediterranean diet that Americans are sure to take to heart.

  1. Popped whole grains. Popcorn, move over. Grains are popping up, as both a snack and a topping for oatmeal and Greek yogurt.
  2. Mediterranean fish like branzino which is just making waves in our country.
  3. New vegetable favorites: Shaved Brussels sprouts, which is a hot restaurant favorite, will hopefully become packaged like shredded carrots and cole slaw.
  4. Halloumi cheese, a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk cheese that can be grilled and other cheeses from the region.
  5. Mediterranean spices such as ras el hanout, za'atar and sumac (not the American sumac so don’t go pluck any leaves off the nearest tree.)

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