Routt County CSU Extension: Mediterranean diet a lifestyle

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If you are looking for a lifestyle and eating plan that improves your health and is easy to follow, the Mediterranean diet is one you should consider. It’s not a weight loss diet, rather a way of eating and living.

Routt County CSU Extension

This monthly column about health issues publishes on Mondays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns .

The philosophy of this healthy lifestyle includes eating a variety of mostly plant-based foods in small portions, while maintaining a leisurely mealtime and active lifestyle. It is possible for people to naturally lose weight while following a Mediterranean style of eating, but the health benefits reach far beyond losing a few pounds.

Experts have studied this nutrient-rich dietary pattern ever since the 1970s, when they discovered the low levels of chronic disease and long life expectancy seen in the people in many of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It is the lifestyle and cuisine from Greece, Italy, Spain and southern France we closely associate with the traditions of eating Mediterranean-style.

The Mediterranean diet starts with a foundation of plant-based foods, then expands. Nuts, grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil and red wine are all a part of the diet. Adding any one of these foods to your diet is beneficial, but greater health benefits happen when these foods are eaten together.

A Mediterranean-style eating plan is associated with lowering the incidence of Alzheimer’s dementia, diabetes, cancer and heart disease, as well as reversing metabolic syndrome, a dangerous cluster of three or more conditions that greatly increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes.

To get started on eating a Mediterranean-style diet, following are eight simple steps provided by the Oldways Mediterranean Foods Alliance.

• Eat lots of vegetables. From a simple plate of sliced fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and crumbled feta cheese to stunning salads, garlicky greens, soup and stews, healthy pizzas or oven-roasted medleys, vegetables are vitally important to the fresh tastes and delicious flavors of the Mediterranean Diet.

• Change the way you think about meat. If you eat meat, have smaller amounts — small strips of sirloin in a vegetable sauté, or a dish of pasta garnished with diced prosciutto.

• Enjoy some dairy products. Eat Greek or plain yogurt, and try smaller amounts of a variety of cheeses.

• Eat seafood twice per week. Fish such as tuna, herring, salmon and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish, including mussels, oysters, and clams, have similar benefits for brain and heart health

• Cook a vegetarian meal one night per week. Build meals around beans, whole grains and vegetables, and heighten the flavor with fragrant herbs and spices. Down the road, try two nights per week.

• Use good fats. Include sources of healthy fats in daily meals, especially extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, olives and avocados.

• Switch to whole grains. Whole grains are naturally rich in many important nutrients; their fuller, nuttier taste and extra fiber keep you satisfied for hours. Cook traditional Mediterranean grains, such as bulgur, barley, farro and brown, black or red rice, and favor products made with whole grain flour.

• For dessert, eat fresh fruit. Choose from a wide range of delicious fresh fruits, from fresh figs and oranges to pomegranates, grapes and apples. Instead of daily ice cream or cookies, save sweets for a special treat or celebration.

Karen Massey is a registered dietitian nutritionist and family and consumer science Extension agent with Colorado State University Extension in Routt County. For more information, call 970-879-0825, or email . You can follow Massey’s personal food blog at .

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