By Christine M. Okezie, HHC, AADP
I have been thrilled to see all the recent media attention about a study confirming the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. To me it was encouraging to see such mainstream validation that returning to a traditional way of eating is a key to optimal health.
Deeply nourishing, unprocessed, naturally raised, “traditional foods” are those foods that have sustained our ancestors throughout history and pre-history prior to the advent of the industrialization of food. Traditional foods were responsible for the natural growth and evolution of our species for thousands of years up until the 19th century, a time when obesity related disease was a fraction of what it is today.
Traditional cultures ate their foods in the context of family and community relationships, compatible with an active lifestyle and in harmony with their natural environment, but things have changed so much in the name of modern convenience. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded the Mediterranean Diet may reduce the risk cardiovascular disease and stroke by as much as 30 percent.
This study is the latest in a growing body of research showing the amazing health benefits associated with the traditional Mediterranean Diet, a plant-based diet whose staples include fresh vegetables and fruit, beans and other legumes, nuts, olive oil and seafood.
This tells me more and more health experts are beginning to value the common sense approach of the whole foods movement, a slow and growing movement that seeks to overcome the madness resulting from the highly processed, refined, artificial foods, which have turned our modern societies into centers of degenerative disease.
Staple Foods of the Mediterranean Diet
The traditional Mediterranean diet is practically vegetarian with lots of fish and very little meat. Key ingredients in Mediterranean cuisine include olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables, plant-based proteins like beans, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fatty fish, plus moderate amounts of red meat and wine. Staple foods include tomatoes, leafy greens, eggplant, capers, lentils, beans, chickpeas, whole grains and mushrooms.
Emphasis is on anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fats (fish oil, flax and salmon). Flavors are rich and diverse, and meals are simply and freshly prepared. Portion sizes are smaller than the Standard American Diet with a focus on high quality, and where healthy fats and fiber rich foods keep you feeling fuller longer and more satisfied. Processed and packaged food is minimal, and there are no artificial sweeteners, low-fat, low-carb snack foods, diet sodas, fake butter spreads or vegetable oil. Just real food!
Food as Medicine
The basis of the Mediterranean Diet is based on real, wholesome, plant-rich foods, which numerous studies have associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes and many cancers. Several studies have shown the Mediterranean Diet is one of the easiest to stay on in contrast to most punishing fad diets.
Researchers found those who followed the Mediterranean diet had a significant decrease in weight, blood pressure, triglycerides, blood sugar and insulin levels – i.e. health benefits that contribute to a longer life expectancy than people who follow the modern Western diet.
Doesn’t common sense and scientific research lead us to the conclusion that if we want whole healthy bodies, we should put in whole healthy foods? True, nutrition is a fledgling science, but there should be very little debate about the essentials of healthy eating. Our species has evolved and thrived on real, whole, fresh, chemical-free foods. Traditional ways of eating such as the Mediterranean Diet is simply a return to our heritage, which indeed is a return to good health!
Spinach with Garbanzo Beans
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-lb. bag chopped spinach
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1. In a large sauté pan, over medium heat, add olive oil and cook onion and garlic until soft, about 5 minutes.
2. In a small pan, over medium heat toast pine nuts, stirring constantly so they do not burn. Toast until golden brown and set aside.
3. Add chickpeas, spinach, raisins, pine nuts and nutmeg to the onion and garlic mixture, and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes until spinach is wilted.
4. Add pine nuts. Remove from heat.
5. Drizzle with lemon juice
6. Season with salt and pepper and serve.