The Mediterranean diet was named the healthiest diet by US News & World Report for the sixth year in a row.
For nutrition experts like Melissa Keeney, RD, Hartford HealthCare, it came as no surprise.
“The Mediterranean diet is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, heart failure, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Evidence also suggests that it may improve gut health and cognitive function,” he notes.
But what is it about the Mediterranean style of eating that is so good for us?
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The Mediterranean diet in a nutshell
Named after the region of the world where people combined healthier and more natural eating, the Mediterranean diet promotes foods rich in:
“The diet also encourages moderate to high consumption of fish and shellfish, and low consumption of red meat and dairy,” Keeney explains. “Meals are more plant-based and fresh, and the lifestyle includes physical activity, both planned exercise and activities such as walking, climbing stairs, housework and gardening.”
No calorie counting required
One of the beauties of the Mediterranean diet, he says, is that it celebrates food, just the healthiest.
“When a diet is very restrictive or eliminates food groups, it is a red flag! This doesn’t eliminate major food groups and there’s no calorie or macronutrient counting required,” she says, adding, “It’s not an ‘all or nothing’ approach. You can incorporate foods from the Mediterranean diet into your current eating pattern.”
To make your eating pattern more Mediterranean, Keeney suggests:
- Add a handful of almonds or walnuts as a snack.
- Prepare a salad dressing with olive oil, lemon, and fresh black pepper.
- Eat fish twice a week.
- Try new grains like couscous, barley, or farro.
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Lots of ways to customize it
The Mediterranean diet can be further tailored to your ethnicity or personal choice, Keeney says.
“This diet, for example, encourages the consumption of chickpeas while, in Southeast Asia, lentils are promoted,” he says, noting that much more research has been done on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. “In Latin America, meals are made with black and pinto beans. They are all nutritionally similar.”
Try to create nutritionally balanced dishes regardless of the type of food you enjoy. That includes: a carbohydrate, which is needed for energy; fat; protein; and fiber.
Ready to give it a try? Try this recipe.
Keeney shared this recipe to help you try Mediterranean-style food.
Orzo Pasta Salad with Roasted Chickpeas
- 4 cups low sodium vegetable broth
- 1 ½ cups of daggerboard
- 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
- ¼ cup red onion, finely chopped
- 1 ½ cups red grape tomatoes, halved
- 2 baby cucumbers, chopped
- 1 cup arugula
- ½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- ¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves
- ¾ cup red wine vinaigrette, recipe below
- Garlic powder
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Feta or Parmesan cheese (optional)
- Set oven to 425 degrees. Place chickpeas on a parchment covered baking sheet, toss with garlic powder and black pepper. Grill 20 to 30 minutes, flipping once, until chickpeas are crisp. For a faster salad, you can skip this step.
- Pour the broth into a large saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the orzo.
- Partially cover and cook until orzo is tender, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Drain orzo and transfer to a large wide bowl. Mix until slightly cool.
- When cool, toss orzo with chickpeas, tomatoes, onion, cucumber, arugula, basil, mint, and enough vinaigrette (see recipe below) to cover. Add cheese.
- Season with salt and pepper, and serve at room temperature.
Red Wine Vinaigrette
- ½ cup red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons of agave or honey
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Whisk together the vinegar, lemon juice, agave/honey, and pepper.
Recipe based on an orzo pasta salad by Giada De Laurentiis.