Since I have been flapping my gums for a few weeks about dietary measures we can take to prevent or delay Alzheimer’s disease, I probably should get into the details about my number 1 pick. And that is the Mediterranean diet.
Okay. So how does that translate into breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
In this week’s episode, I go over the details of a Mediterranean eating plan and overall lifestyle. And the number 1 thing about a Mediterranean diet and lifestyle is, of course, to enjoy what you’re eating.
I mentioned a couple of recipes in the episode. They are:
As always, if you have any questions or comments feel free to email me on my website contact page, which is here.
Also, if you would like to hire me as your Health and wellness coach to help you meet your dietary and lifestyle goals, please get in touch with me here.
Here’s a transcript of the audio if you prefer to read the episode:
163 How to put the Mediterranean diet theory into practice
Now… if you’ve listened to the four episodes that I did recently on how to prevent or slow Alzheimer’s disease, you heard me flapping my gums about the Mediterranean diet. So, you may be thinking “Okay, I’m going to do this Mediterranean diet thing. How does that translate into breakfast, lunch, and dinner?”
In this podcast episode, I’m going to break it all down for you.
Note: I pause for a story here.
First of all, when we in the nutrition business think Mediterranean, we think of it as a lifestyle and not just a food group thing. Most people think Greek when they think Mediterranean food, but I think the Italians have a similar approach to eating.
What they have in common is their love of food. Pure and simple. They love the art of cooking, they breathe in the aroma of the food, they enjoy what they are eating, and they are probably not counting calories. Not as much as we do, that is. It’s a social occasion. The more people at the table, the better. They are having a good time… And I’m guessing, don’t have their heads plunged into their cell phones. Some may, some may not. But this is the feeling that we get when we think about the Mediterranean diet.
So, they must be fatter than us. Right? No, actually they’re not. It’s only the British that have picked up the fast food way of life that are also picking up the pounds. Not only do they have less obesity in the Mediteranian countries, but they have less chronic disease and age slower than we do.
So, what’s up with that?
As I just mentioned, the lifestyle around the Mediterranean diet is based on the theory that they are enjoying the food that they are eating, rather than thinking about foods to avoid. The foods are creative. There is a lot of variety.
In other words, the making of the food is part of the whole pleasure package.
So, what are the general principles of the Mediterranean diet?
Well, if I’m recommending the Mediterranean diet to avoid Alzheimer’s disease, you’ve probably guessed that it’s a plant-based diet. And it is.
That doesn’t mean only plants, and we’ll get to that in a minute. There are also moderate amounts of meat, cheese, yogurt, and eggs.
The emphasis is on a variety of foods, rather than the same food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.
Portions are generally smaller, especially for the meat, chicken, and fish.
If we look at this in terms of a food pyramid, then the bottom or widest part of the food pyramid will be fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans and lentils, minimally processed grains, and olive oil.
My father comes from a large Italian family. I remember him saying that they use fruit for dessert and they fill up on seasonal vegetables.
Entertaining family meant a bowl of nuts in every room.
So, the eat liberally portion of the pyramid are the fruits and vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds, lentils, healthy grains, and olive oil.
As for the middle part of the pyramid, we have:
Fish, both white fish and shellfish: 2-3 times per week (examples are cod, tilapia, salmon). The Portuguese and Italian like their sardines and anchovies. Fish stews are popular in Spain and Italy. I’m used to doing something called zuppa di pesce. This is a fish stew with, of course, lots of vegetables. I add red onions, shallots, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, and baby spinach. When these cultures eat chicken, it is usually part of a stirfry with vegetables and an organic grain.
Meat in the Mediterranean is served in much smaller amounts – usually used to enhance the flavor of a dish with vegetables and grains. It is not the centerpiece of a 3-spot meat, potato, and vegetable plate. In many Mediterranean countries, the meat is from local grazing animals. In many of these dishes, meat is replaced with beans, nuts, and seeds.
By the way, Mediterraneans drink wine or water with meals. Sweetened fruit juice drinks are just plain silly. Hawaiian fruit punch is not fruit, it’s not punch, and it’s not from Hawaii. So, what’s up with that?
Yogurt and cheese: both are enjoyed by Mediterraneans, but again the portion sizes are smaller than ours and the yogurt is not pre-sweetened.
As for eggs, they are usually eaten as part of a meal. An example might be something like a frittata – where eggs are mixed with vegetables and cooked in olive oil. That would be a lunch or supper.
Adding herbs and spices to your meals can enhance the flavor, complexity, and reduce the need for salt. Examples in the Mediterranean diet might include rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, or oregano.
As for the tip of the pyramid, or the “eat only occasionally” category, here is where your cookies, chips, cake, ice cream, and doughnuts come in.
So, the theory of the Mediterranean diet is that vegetables, nuts, beans, and seeds are the centerpiece of the meal plan. Vegetables usually account for half of the dinner plate. Fruits are used for dessert. And healthy grains are used to fill you up. And most of all, enjoy what you’re eating, for goodness sake.
So, let’s approach this like an “if X, then y” scenario.
1. If a beef burrito, then a bean burrito. Black beans or pinto beans sound like you’re building a Mexican dish, but so what? You can use any type of bean that you like. To fill up the burrito, cut up an entire green pepper in strips, perhaps half of an onion, use a fresh hot pepper of your choosing, and sauté it before adding the beans. To hold it all together, you can add shredded cheese – but not too much. Another trick to hold together the burrito ingredients is to make your own refried beans. Sauté onion, pepper, and garlic. Throw in a fresh hot pepper or cayenne pepper. Add beans. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put it in the blender or processor.
2.If a pu-pu Platter, then chicken chow mein. I’ve got a couple of recipes for both chicken chow mein and vegetable chow mein with peanuts. I’ll give you links to them in the show notes.
3. If spaghetti and meatballs, then pasta Primavera. I think perhaps the best way for Americans to switch from meat, potato, vegetable to the Mediterranean diet, is to think about stir-fry recipes. Pasta Primavera is basically mixed vegetables in a white wine with olive oil sauce, over thin pasta. Basically, pasta Primavera means almost any vegetable combination that works for you. Italians like to use vegetables like zucchini, onions, carrots, garlic, and peppers You can use red pepper flakes to kick it up a notch. You can substitute with almost any pasta. And you can add chicken or shrimp. And of course, fresh basil. Fenito.
4. If corndogs, then falafel. I realize that’s a bit of a stretch, but falafel is good. If you don’t like the way somebody else makes it, just make your own version. That’s where the creativity and improvisation come in.
5. If corn chips and salsa, then homemade pita bread with Baba ghanoush- an eggplant dip. Think you can’t make an eggplant dip all by yourself? Remember what you used to say to your 4-year-old (if you had a 4-year-old) when they told to that they couldn’t do something? I bet you challenged them by saying… “I don’t think you can do that all by yourself”. And remember what they said? “Oh yes I can!” Well… here’s me saying “I don’t think you can make an eggplant dip. You can’t follow directions. You can’t find an eggplant and a pepper in the grocery store”. Okay. You may not be saying “yes, I can”, but at least I tried.
6. If cookies, then granola. Granola actually has a lot of Mediterranean ingredients. Oatmeal is always a good start. By the way, when I’m ranking grains for overall healthiness, oatmeal is at the top of my list. The next ingredient is almonds. Obviously, a big nut. Then there is dates, sunflower seeds, honey, dates, and coconut flakes. You get the picture. And granola is great for breakfast as well as dessert, if you need something fast in the morning.
So you get the general picture.
Overall, you may want to approach your Mediterranean mindset from the perspective of abundance, rather than scarcity or deprivation. This means adding more vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains to complement your meals. This will naturally shift the proportion of your plate to slightly less meat, cheese, and overly processed foods. And last but not least, there’s no place for Ranch Doritos.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. You can find me on my contact page on my website, which is healing outside the box.com.
That’s all I have for you today. Be well, and stay tuned next week for another episode of healing outside the box.