There’s a national day, week, or month, for almost everything, isn’t there? May is no different as we celebrate “National Mediterranean Diet Month.” Strange? Maybe not.
Forget the Passport, Travel to your Kitchen
The Mediterranean Diet, originally popular in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea (Greece, Italy, Spain, etc.), is becoming more and more popular in the U.S. “It’s a ‘heritage based’ way of eating that is mainly made up of whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and oils,” says Katherine Carithers, MHA, RD, CSO, LDN, CNSC, a clinical nutrition manager at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center. “The best part about a Mediterranean diet is that, when initiated properly, it’s nutrient dense without being calorie dense. The Mediterranean diet can be beneficial for heart health, diabetes management, and overall wellness.”
Carithers stresses that while people who follow a Mediterranean diet can lose weight, it’s more of a lifestyle change than a fad diet. “It’s a healthful eating pattern that most people could benefit from adopting. The emphasis of the Mediterranean diet should be on consuming nutritious whole foods and incorporating physical activity into each day. By following these principles, people tend to lose weight and feel more healthful.”
A recent study suggests that this particular diet can curb overeating and reduce the risk of obesity. Carithers states “because it is a diet high in fiber, you’re going to be fuller for longer, therefore eating less. But more fiber, if you’re not used to it, may cause some gastrointestinal issues. So be sure to drink lots of water to avoid constipation.”
Watch for Common Mistakes
It’s easy to make mistakes in any diet. The Mediterranean diet is no different. Once people hear olive oil, they may over portion with the misconception it is good for you, but the age-old phrase “everything in moderation” still applies. And the delicious celebration foods of these old towns? Still, something to limit — like Baklava.
A helpful rule of thumb is to make the majority of your daily meals rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, herbs, olive oil, and legumes. Fish and seafood like tuna, sardines, and shellfish can be included twice a week. Yogurt, cheese, eggs, and poultry should be consumed only once a week. And red meats and sweets even more sparingly; once a month.
Need some recipe ideas? Grab this one from Katherine that includes couscous:
Mediterranean Couscous Salad
1 ½ cups of water
1 cup of uncooked whole wheat pearl couscous
½ cup of thinly sliced sweet peppers
½ cup of chopped cucumbers
½ cup of thinly sliced green onion
½ cup of halved cherry tomatoes
5 large thinly sliced green olives
2 tbsp olive oil
The zest and juice of one lemon
2 tbsp chiffonade mint
3 tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro
Salt & pepper to taste
- Bring water to boil in a 2 quart sauce pan. Add couscous, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until water is absorbed (~10 minutes). Remove couscous from the heat and let stand covered for 2-3 minutes then gently fluff with a fork.
- Add cooked couscous and the rest of the ingredients to a large bowl and toss to incorporate.
Enjoy warm or chilled!
For extra protein, add feta cheese, garbanzo beans, walnuts, or grilled chicken.