For decades, people have espoused the benefits of Mediterranean foods. Olive oil, fish, vegetables and very few carbohydrates have been said to have almost magical powers when it comes to your health, especially your heart health. A new study published in the “Annals of Internal Medicine” has finally put those rumors to the test, and found that, at least for women, they are true.
The study followed more than 10,000 women in later middle-age. Every two years, for 15 years, the study asked the women to fill out detailed questionnaires about their diets and about any health issues they might have. What the study found was, perhaps unsurprisingly, that women who had primarily Mediterranean diets suffered from fewer chronic illnesses than women who didn’t.
According to NPR, “Women who followed this pattern of eating in their 50s were about 40 percent more likely to reach the later decades without developing chronic diseases and memory or physical problems, compared to women who didn’t eat as well.” This means that women who incorporated more Mediterranean foods into their diets were much less likely to develop diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, and lung diseases. They were also more likely to be able to remain active and their memory didn’t decrease into old age.
Incorporating Mediterranean foods into everyday life might seem daunting at first, especially for those who follow a standard American diet, but here are five easy ways to start to make the switch.
Use Olive Oil Instead of Butter
Olive oil is one of the best foods for you. It has anti-inflammatory properties, it can reduce heart disease and skin conditions, and can help you control your insulin levels. While olive oil cannot be substituted one-for-one for butter in baking recipes, you can use it when you cook to replace butter in sauces, glazes, and marinades. You can also mix it with vinegar to create an easy vinaigrette dressing for salads. Just this simple step will not only help you stay healthier; it will make your food taste better, too.
Replace Meat with Fish
As Americans, we do love our meat. We like a hunk of steak or a chicken sandwich. While there is nothing wrong with this on occasion, replacing two meals a week with fish can really help keep you healthier, and is something those following a Mediterranean diet definitely do. Fish are generally high in omega-3 fatty acids, which can help your heart and can help reduce inflammation. Salmon and tuna are great sources of these omega-3s and are easy to prepare.
If you hate the taste of vegetables, blend them up in a smoothie. Take vegetables like carrots, spinach, kale or celery and toss it in a blender. Add liquid like milk or fruit juice, then throw in yogurt or a banana along with some nut butter (Nut butters like almond butter and sunflower seed butter are also really good for you!), cinnamon, and honey and blend it up. All you’ll taste will be the banana, cinnamon and honey, but you’ll be getting all the benefits of the vegetables without even knowing it. This is a great way to trick kids into eating their vegetables, too. An added bonus is that smoothies can be made in advance and frozen. Toss one in your lunch in the morning to keep your food cold while it thaws, and it’ll be ready to eat by noon.
Put it on a Salad
One of the easiest ways to incorporate Mediterranean foods into your diet is to make your meal, then toss it on a salad. Instead of putting your grilled chicken or steak on a sandwich, make a bed of leafy greens, add some chopped veggies and fruits, and slice up the meat. Stack the meat on top of your salad, toss it with some of your new, homemade vinaigrette and enjoy! By making your sandwich into a salad instead, you are not only reducing your carb intake, but increasing your vegetable intake. As an added bonus, you are eating more olive oil, too.
Keep Easy Snacks on Hand
When the snack craving strikes, it can be so easy to reach for the bag of potato chips. Tossing the bag is the first step to a healthier lifestyle, but what do you do when you want a snack? Those following a Mediterranean diet would reach for dried fruits, nuts, seeds or crunchy vegetables instead. However, who wants to peel a carrot and chop it up for a snack? Make sure your healthy snack foods are ready to eat, eliminating the popular excuse that eating chips is much easier.