Making the Mediterranean Diet Work For You

4573787507_fa2d9f4f43_oI’m sure you heard all about the new research on the Mediterranean Diet that made headlines worldwide.  This large-scale study from Spain, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, got tons of attention because it was the first time we’ve had such strong evidence supporting the benefits of this style of eating.  Participants following the eating patterns common in Spain, and other coastal countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, had a significant reduction (about 30%) in the risk of stroke and other cardiovascular events.

No doubt the results were solid — and the researchers even suspended the study early (after five years) because it was so clear that those eating the Mediterranean Diet were benefiting in such significant ways that the control group wasn’t — there were still critics of the study.

Some experts claim the design was flawed because the control group did not follow a low-fat diet – and others thought the media over-hyped the results.  Despite the media brouhaha, and the study’s potential shortcomings, there are worse things than drawing attention to a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seafood and healthy fats like extra-virgin olive oil and nuts.  Plus, did I mention the wine?  Those following the Mediterranean Diet enjoyed a glass of red wine with meals.  Maybe we can’t conclude that the Mediterranean Diet is more beneficial than a low-fat diet, it’s certainly a better approach than the way many people eat in this country.   It’s also a style of eating that celebrates food, encouraging the pleasures of the table without a long list of restrictions.  I say that’s all good.

Maybe the Mediterranean Diet got a lot of praise in the press.  Perhaps the study’s results were over-hyped.  I’m OK with that. I would much rather have people eat like a Spaniard, Italian, Greek or Lebanese than eat like a Caveman.  It’s great that this style of eating got the type of attention that’s usually reserved for the latest fad diet.  All too often — the science-based, sensible approach doesn’t make news, or doesn’t sell books.  I hope this will help change that.  Two fantastic dietitian colleagues Meri Raffetto and Wendy Jo Peterson just wrote a book, the Mediterranean Diet Cookbook for Dummies, which can show you how easy and delicious it  can be to eat like you’re from the Mediterranean.9781118067789_cover.indd

We certainly enjoy Mediterranean-style meals at home. Here are some ways you can bring a bit of the Mediterranean to you every day.

Do not fear the fat. It’s still hard for some people to get over the idea that not all fats are bad. The Mediterranean diet is rich in healthy fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil, nuts and avocados.  Make your own vinaigrettes with olive oil instead of using bottled dressings.  It will be fresher and tastier – and you’ll even help enhance the absorption of some nutrients from the salad compared to using a low-fat dressing.  Another recent study found that the aroma of olive oil helped to enhance satiety, or feelings of fullness.  Saute your vegetables in olive oil, snack on nuts instead of chips or pretzels, and find new ways to enjoy avocados beyond guacamole.

Make vegetables a center-of-plate star. Forget the notion of starting your meal planning with a big slab of meat.  Find ways to have vegetables play a bigger role. As Americans, we often start our meal with a single salad drenched in a creamy dressing.  It’s much different in Lebanon, where we visit my in-laws every summer.  The Lebanese enjoy an array of vegetables during a meal, including salads made with some of the most nutritious greens you can eat –   tabbouleh with parsley, fattoush with chopped vegetables, sauteed chickory with caramelized onions, and fresh rocca salad with beets.  Meats are often served as kebabs, so you can enjoy a small portion after eating the vegetable-packed mezze.  Find ways you can shrink your meat portions — enjoy pastas that are studded with vegetables and just  a little meat, make a hearty stew with beans and small chunks of meat, and experiment with whole-grain entree salads topped with sliced roasted chicken.

Love your lemons. I always keep a big bag of fresh lemons in my fridge that I use to squeeze on vegetables or make salad dressings during the week. There’s nothing quite like a squirt of citrus to brighten up a dish.  On the weekends, I will often squeeze a bunch of lemons and make a batch of dressing with olive oil, grated fresh garlic and kosher salt. I keep this elixir in a bottle in the refrigerator and use it on everything – roasted cauliflower, arugula salad, sautéed broccoli and pasta dishes.

Face your fish-cooking fears. Dietary guidelines recommend 8 ounces of fish a week, but most Americans fall short of this goal.  For many people, it comes down to not knowing how to prepare fish and seafood at home.  It’s not a difficult task.  You’ll find lots ofHH_cover_asp1106_FNL.indd ways to gain seafood-cooking confidence in my new book, The Food Lover’s Healthy Habits Cookbook.  Eating seafood twice a week is one of the 12 healthy habits featured in the book. You’ll find fool-proof cooking techniques and tons of family-friendly fish recipes.

Embrace beans. We simply don’t eat enough beans in this country.  I love legumes, and try to find lots of ways to incorporate them into meals – adding to whole-grain pilafs, salads, pastas and casseroles.  And of course, beans are a great base for better-for-you dips, including my favorite hummus. If you need to get to know beans a little better, check out Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon. It’s a tremendous cookbook and bean guide.

What are your favorite Mediterranean-style meals?

Image courtesy of Yanoosh on flickr

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  • This is a great post – I love the Mediterranean diet. I’ve been cooking this way for years and its delicious!

  • With all the latest fad diets bombarding us lately, it is good to see that the Mediterranean diet is still making headlines. For a heart healthy diet, this one is the best.

  • Interesting post! Mediterranean diet is one of the best and I love it. This can be ideal for those who are into a heart-healthy eating plan. Nice share!!

  • Hi Janet – I came across this research recently and just bounced into it again on your blog. I’m originally from Lebanon and grew up in a traditional household where we used to consume huge quantities of local olive oil, local lemons, herbs such as thyme, oregano, mint, parsley, and tons of legumes and veggies not to forget the garlic! I’ve tried all kinds of foods and cuisines, and while I know I’m biased, so far my favorite is the Lebanese cuisine. I love traditional Lebanese dishes (called Tabekh) that are usually stews or baked stuff loaded with tons of veggies. I’m glad I found your blog and keep up the awesome work!!

  • As a person who had a major cardiac incident when I was 49 years old. I know the importance of a healthy diet. I believe the Mediterranean Diet is the best heart healthy and delicious diet out there.

  • Huge fan of Mediterranean food! I think you really can’t go wrong with this style of eating. Let the produce do the talking, fresh, simple and tasty. I drizzle olive oil over all my veges and I think consuming unheated in this way is very good for me.

  • One idea that just came to me this week is to spread hummus on my rye toast instead of margarine. For example, today for lunch we had eggplant stew and one piece of rye toast with about a tablespoon of hummus. Very satisfying.

  • Fiona Jesse Giffords

    The Mediterranean diet is a healthy and nutritious diet which is preferable by all as the diet consists mostly vegetables and fruits which are of low calorie based and highly nutritious.

  • For teachers out there interested in looking at the Mediterranean diet and nutrition with their students,’s latest free reading lesson is based on a Reuters article reporting the results of the Spanish study Find it at
    Title of lesson: A Healthy Diet?
    Topic: A Mediterranean diet high in olive oil, nuts, fish and fresh fruits and vegetables may help prevent heart disease and strokes, says a large study from Spain.

  • It’s refreshing to see a “diet” post that’s actually about REAL healthy food! Thanks.

  • Nice post indeed.I like these tips.This can be ideal for those who are into a heart-healthy eating plan. Nice share!!

  • The Mediterranean diet has always been promoted as one of the healthiest. People in this region often live to over 100 years of age and rarely suffer the long term conditions such as arthritis, heart attacks and diabetes, and stay active right up to the end of their lives.

  • Sue

    As I live in the UK, I clearly see a difference in the way people look in the UK and northern Europe in general to the people who live around the Med. The latter are thinner, healthier and younger looking and this has a lot to do with the food they eat, which is simple, fresh, real food our bodies are designed to eat and not the manufactured crap that fills the supermarket shelves.

  • It’s Pleasure to understand your blog. The above content article is very informative & helpful. Thank you for providing such a nice information.The tips are really very nice and help us in getting rid of extra fats and weight.

  • Raffaella Paci

    I am Italian and live in Italy! I love our food , but unfortunately, people are eating more and more processed food, unhealthy meat, and other junk food that do not belong to our Culture! So, our children are the fattest in Europe !
    But, believe me, you should eat Mediterranean Diet, like I do!

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