Reports that the Mediterranean diet is a healthy and recommended way to eat have been around for many years. I am using “diet” in the sense of all of the things that a person eats, NOT a prescribed food plan.
Having married into a Greek family, I was introduced to many traditional dishes from the Mediterranean. I learned to cook these foods for my family, and many of them have become favorites that my kids request whenever they are home.
Not surprisingly, these recipes are often “Americanized,” using butter, salt, and refined flours that would not be used in traditional methods of preparation.
One of our family favorites, spanikopita, is an example of this parting with tradition. First, no one that I know makes their own phyllo dough. It is purchased from a commercial bakery, using bleached, enriched white flour.
Second, the recipes are heavy on cheese and eggs, and relatively light on greens.
And, last but not least, butter is used instead of olive oil.
So, if you are tempted to think that eating at a Greek or Middle Eastern restaurant, or buying these prepared foods, is the answer to following the Mediterranean diet, think again.
The actual diet recommendations are fairly straight forward, and don’t require any special recipes or equipment. They are very close to what we’ve been talking about during our 30 day plan; cutting sugar and salt, eating more plants and less animal products, and substituting healthy fats. Here are the recommendations:
- Eat primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
- Replace butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
- Use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
- Limit red meat to no more than a few times a month
- Eat fish and poultry at least twice a week
- Enjoy meals with family and friends
- Drink red wine in moderation (optional)
- Get plenty of exercise
(Source: Mayo Clinic)
This year, in addition to Mediterranean foods, we’ll be seeing a lot of other Middle Eastern cuisines featured in menus and on grocery store shelves. These cuisines do offer wonderful health benefits, including incorporating spices containing antioxidants that we don’t often get in our typical American fare.
Just be aware that if the ingredients, preparation, or processing of the foods you are purchasing are not traditional, you probably are not getting all (or, maybe, any) of the benefits promised.
One recipe that I think hits the mark and is great at this time of year is lentil soup. My mother-in-law gave me this recipe. And, lucky you, I’m willing to share!
Greek Lentil Soup
1/4 c. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. bag dry lentils
2 quarts water
2 tbs. tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tbs. or more oregano
Juice of 1 lemon (about 4 tbs.)
salt to taste
Rinse and drain lentils and clean out any pebbles, etc. Heat olive oil and saute onion and garlic briefly, then add lentils. Add water, tomato paste, oregano, and bay leaves. Bring pot to boil, then turn down to simmer until lentils are tender and ingredients have combined, about 1 -1 1/2 hours. Add lemon juice. Salt to taste.
This post is not intended as medical advice. Consult with your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.
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