Did you know that May is National Mediterranean Diet month? I didn’t know that until recently either but I am so intrigued by the Mediterranean Diet and thought you might be interested in knowing a little bit about it also. The Mediterranean Diet isn’t a “diet,” it’s a lifestyle. Much like the nutrition pyramid we’ve all grown up seeing in school, this style of eating has a pyramid all its own.
The thing I like best about this style is that the very foundation of the Mediterranean Diet is enjoying your food with others and fostering a deep appreciation for the pleasures of eating healthy and delicious foods. I think any meal is more enjoyable when shared with others. I also love that this isn’t some “fad” diet with complicated steps. But my very favorite thing about the Mediterranean Diet? Drinking wine in moderation is encouraged! But seriously, this is an incredibly healthy way of eating. The base for each meal is fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, healthy oils, whole grains and beans. Fish and seafood are eaten often as well while dairy and poultry are consumed only moderately. At the very top of the pyramid are meats and sweets.
I wanted to learn even more about what makes the Mediterranean Diet so healthy and what makes it different from other styles of eating. I had the privilege of interviewing Georgia Orcutt, the program manager for the Mediterranean Foods Alliance at Oldways, a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, with a mission to guide people to good health through heritage. Oldways is well-known for creating the Whole Grain Stamp and the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. Thanks for chatting with me, Georgia!
Q. What health benefits does the Mediterranean diet provide?
A. The Mediterranean Diet is one of the most thoroughly researched models for healthy living. Scientifically backed studies continue to emerge that show this lifestyle can help you achieve weight loss and weight management goals, lower your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure, fight certain cancers and chronic diseases, reduce asthma, avoid diabetes, resist depression, boost brain health, and give birth to healthier babies.
Q. How does the Mediterranean diet differ from other healthy lifestyles?
A. A lot of advice for healthy living focuses on just one lifestyle component, such as exercise or diet alone. The Mediterranean Diet is about embracing an all-encompassing approach to health and recommends having an active lifestyle, cooking and enjoying the pleasures of the table with family and friends. Core foods to shop for, prepare and enjoy every day include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, herbs, spices, nuts, and peanuts. It’s all about going back to traditional and familiar foods. There’s nothing gimmicky, no fad to follow.
Q. Are there any restrictions or foods that aren’t “allowed?”
A. The Mediterranean Diet is not about banishment. It encourages eating fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other foods (canned tomatoes, canned beans, for example) in a minimally processed state. To follow the Mediterranean Diet it’s important to change the way you may think about meat. If you eat it, cut back on portion sizes. For example, add small strips of sirloin to a vegetable sauté or top a dish of pasta with a bit of diced prosciutto. As a main course, eat 3 ounces or less of chicken or lean meat. Try to cook a vegetarian meal one night a week, and then try two nights per week. And sweets are foods to enjoy for special occasions, not every day.
Q. Is it difficult to follow the Mediterranean Diet?
A. No. Not at all. The Mediterranean Diet provides fiber-rich, slowly digested foods that help keep you feeling full for hours and help eliminate the hunger that encourage snacking. It also includes a wide range of foods that are easy to keep on hand, easy to cook, and that taste delicious. Nothing hard about that! The Mediterranean Diet pyramid, a visual guide to help anyone follow this diet, shows at a glance how to create an easy and healthy balance in your life.
Q. Are the ingredients difficult to shop for or expensive?
A. Although this way of eating is traditional in countries that surround the Mediterranean, you don’t need to travel any further than your local supermarket to find all the foods and ingredients you need to make delicious, easy, affordable meals. Many foods that make up this eating pattern are familiar: rice, pasta, canned tuna, olives, olive oil, tomatoes, yogurt, nuts and peanuts. Plus, as the Mediterranean Diet becomes increasingly more popular, more products come along that are prominently displayed. You can now find hummus in a wide range of flavors, plus many different kinds of flatbreads and wraps, Greek yogurt, dips and spreads such a tzatziki and baba ghannoush. There’s been corresponding growth in the number of fresh fruits and vegetables for sale year round, as well as many more choices in seafood and cheese. Food companies continue to offer time-saving innovations, such as pre-washed greens or frozen fruits and vegetables, and other microwaveable products that cut down on prep time in the kitchen.
As you can see, this is such a healthy lifestyle in which you can create tasty meals and not feel deprived. By now you know me and I’m all about dessert. So I’ve created a healthy, flavorful dessert that fits perfectly into a Mediterranean Diet. Fresh pears poached in Moscato wine, citrus juices, cinnamon and other spices creating an easy dessert for any lifestyle.
One Year Ago: Strawberry Shortcake Pie
Citrus Wine Poached Pears
2 pears, halved and cored
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
Dash of ground cloves
1 Tablespoon honey
1 cup Moscato wine
1 vanilla bean
– In a large saucepan, juice the lemon and orange. Reserve the both rinds.
– Remove 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 1 teaspoon orange zest from juiced fruits.
– Finely mince the zests and add them to the saucepan along with the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, honey and wine.
– Split the vanilla bean lengthwise. Scrape the seeds and add to the sauce pan along with the scraped vanilla bean pod.
– Stir and then bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Add the pears and simmer until tender, about 20 minutes.
– Removed the pears from the pan. Remove the vanilla bean pod. Rinse and reserve for another use in the future.
– Continue to simmer the sauce until it becomes syrupy.
– Serve the pears with the wine sauce.