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Mastering the Mediterranean Diet in 7 Simple Steps

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By Quinn Hand, BHSC, ND

Diet has become a nasty word signifying caloric restriction and deprivation of beloved foods in an effort to lose weight. Yet the origin of the word diet literally means “manner of living.” The Mediterranean diet (Med diet) is just that – a traditional pattern of eating and living that has kept southern Italians, Greeks and Spaniards healthy for centuries, and which modern research demonstrates can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by as much as 30%, while also lowering the risk of cancer, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and death from all causes.

The Med diet emphasizes plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains and healthy fats from olive oil and nuts. Not to mention, your nightly glass of wine is encouraged! Here’s how to master this “manner of living” and the health benefits you’ll gain with each step.

1 EAT THE RAINBOW – FRUITS AND VEGGIES, NOT SKITTLES

Consume seven to ten servings of fruits and veggies per day. Rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and polyphenols, fruits and veggies are known to play a major role in reducing CVD and cancer.

2 DRIZZLE ON THE OLIVE OIL

Drizzle “extra-virgin” or “virgin” olive oil – the least processed forms – over salads and steamed veggies. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, which helps reduce artery-clogging “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. It is also rich in antioxidants, which
protect the blood vessels and heart.

3 GIVE IN TO WHOLE GRAINS

In the Mediterranean region, grains are typically whole and contain few unhealthy fats. Reach for grains like brown rice, which are high in fiber, B-vitamins, and a variety of minerals.

4 GO NUTS!

Providing heart-protective fats such as alpha-linolenic acid (a plant-sourced omega-3 fat), fiber, antioxidants and minerals, nuts are key to the Med diet. Due to the healthy fats, nuts are calorically dense, so restrict your intake to a handful per day of choices like
walnuts, almonds and pecans that are raw, not candied or heavily salted.

5 GONE FISHING

Eat wild (not farmed), cold-water fish like salmon, at least once or twice per week to obtain the heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids, which lower triglycerides, the risk of blood clots and sudden heart attacks, improve blood vessel health and modestly lower blood
pressure. If you don’t like eating fish, use a fish oil supplement available in capsules or as a liquid, providing at least 900 mg of combined EPA and DHA daily.

6 REIN IN THE RED MEAT

Red meat is only consumed a few times per month in the traditional Med diet. Reducing red meat means less bad fats that raise cholesterol and promote inflammation. Replace red meat with poultry and fish, keeping servings to the size of a deck of cards.

7 RAISE A GLASS TO HEALTHY EATING

A moderate, daily amount (about 5 oz for women and no more than 10 oz for men) of wine, especially red, provides flavonoids rich in antioxidants that promote heart-health. If you don’t like wine, drink organic, unsweetened purple grape juice instead. Perhaps the most defining aspect of the Med diet is that food is consumed with friends and family, bringing joy and happiness to the meal experience. So, raise that glass of wine and toast good company as you master this wonderful “manner of living.”

QUINN HAND is a naturopathic doctor and natural health educator with clinical interest in women’s health, hormonal balance, fertility and sports medicine.www.qwellness.ca

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