If your New Year’s resolution hasn’t lasted any longer than your kids’ Christmas toys, here’s a way to get started again. Consider the Mediterranean diet to make some lasting healthy changes.
For the fourth year in a row, it ranked as the best overall diet by U.S. News & World Report. It also claimed the top spot in five other lists — best diets for healthy eating, easiest diets to follow, best diets for diabetes, best plant-based diets and best heart-healthy diets.
Just in case you’re wondering, the DASH diet and “flexitarian” diet tied for the No. 2 spot on the Best Diets Overall ranking list. The keto diet? Bottom of the list, ranking 37 out of 39 for Best Diets Overall and 39th in Best Diets for Healthy Eating.
The rankings are made by an expert panel of 24 of the country’s top nutritionists and specialists in diabetes, heart health and weight loss.
But back to the Mediterranean, which seems to be the best way to eat healthy and get to your healthy weight. How do you get started eating Mediterranean? It’s based on the traditional foods that people used to eat in countries around the Mediterranean, such as Italy and Greece, back in the 1960s. Those Italians and Greeks were exceptionally healthy compared with Americans and had a low risk of many diseases. So, researchers began studying what they were eating.
The Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, breads, legumes, potatoes, nuts and seeds. The main dietary fat is extra-virgin olive oil, and the diet also includes moderate amounts of red wine, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs. Red meat typically plays a small part, often only at Sunday dinner.
That pattern has found to improve health and prevent disease, especially heart disease. A large study, called the Predimed study, looked at 7,447 individuals with a high risk of heart disease. For five years, participants followed one of three different diets — a Mediterranean diet with added extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet with added nuts and a low-fat diet control group.
The risk of combined heart attack, stroke and death from heart disease was lower by 31 percent in the Mediterranean and olive oil group and 28 percent in the Mediterranean and nuts group. And dropout rates were twice as high in the control group compared with the two Mediterranean groups.
Results like that have been repeated over and over. Other studies are showing that the Mediterranean diet can help with weight loss, Type 2 diabetes and premature death. The bottom line is this is a diet worth looking into.
Q: Can foods high in flavanols, such as tea, berries and cocoa, help lower blood pressure? I recently read something that said they could help.
A: It appears they might. In a study reported in the October 2020 issue of Scientific Reports, researchers compared foods eaten and blood pressure of more than 25,000 people in the United Kingdom. They found that those with the highest flavanol intake were associated with significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and the biggest difference was seen in people with the highest blood pressure.
So, grab a cup of tea; eat some berries; and enjoy a piece of dark chocolate.
Traditional Greek Salad
Eating the Mediterranean way doesn’t have to be difficult. Try this Greek salad recipe. It’s adapted from the website The Mediterranean Dish. Serve with crusty bread. You can increase the protein by adding grilled chicken.
» 1 medium red onion
» 4 medium tomatoes
» 1 cucumber, partially peeled
» 1 green bell pepper, cored
» ¼ cup Greek pitted Kalamata olives
» 4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
» 1-2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
» 2 ounces Greek feta cheese
» ½ Tablespoon dried oregano
Cut the red onion in half, and thinly slice into half-moons. Cut the tomatoes into wedges or large chunks. Cut the partially peeled cucumber in half length-wise, and then slice into thick halves (at least ½-inch in thickness). Thinly slice the bell pepper into rings.
Place everything in a large salad dish. Add the pitted kalamata olives. Season with dried oregano. Pour the olive oil and red wine vinegar all over the salad. Give everything a very gentle toss to mix, and then add the feta.
Serve with crusty bread.
Per serving: 102 calories; 7 grams protein; 4.7 grams carbohydrates; 9.5 grams fat (1.3 grams saturated fat); 1.1 grams fiber; 28 milligrams sodium
— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian with SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, Illinois. Contact her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.