The traditional diet of Greece (before 1960) is the one linked to lowered death rates and longer life expectancy. It is characterized by a high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and cereals (mostly in the form of sourdough bread rather than pasta); most olive oil and olives; less milk but more cheese; more fish and less meat; and moderate amounts of wine. Obviously, most of us can’t drop everything and start eating the traditional Mediterranean way. But we can embrace the following 10 steps to incorporate as man aspects of traditional Mediterranean cuisine as possible.
Fill your plate with fruits and vegetables, emphasizing green leafy vegetables.
Eat more fish and less meat and dairy. When dining out, choose entrees with plenty of vegetables, and avoid those with cream or butter or lots of cheese. For example, enjoy grilled fish served with vegetables, or vegetarian pasta drizzled with olive oil and a little Parmesan.
Go for whole grains and flour whenever possible. According to researcher Ancel Keys, M.D., Ph.D., less-processed whole grain foods provide a more sustained level of energy over a longer period, making them more healthful.
Reach for extra-virgin olive oil instead of another vegetable oil, especially when olive oil will enhance or complement other flavors in a dish.
Snack on nuts almost every day, and feature beans in your entree or side dish when possible.
Get a little fruit with dessert. End your meal with a treat that provides a serving of fruit. Grapes or baked apples, for example, contribute to phytochemicals (in the case of grapes, same as those you’d get from the wine).
If you drink wine or other alcoholic beverages, have it only with meals, and don’t overdo it.
Enjoy olives (green or black) as accents in entree dishes or sandwiches and salads, or set them out on the table as appetizers.
Take in dairy as cheese and yogurt; milk is less of a focus in Mediterranean cuisine.
Become a “dipper” instead of a “spreader.” Instead of serving sourdough or French bread with butter or margarine, try setting out a small dish of tasty extra-virgin olive oil to dip slices in. You can punch up the flavor of the olive oil with a splash of balsamic vinegar and/or a sprinkle of black pepper, Italian herbs, or salt.
Adapted from Food Synergy, by Elaine Magee, MPH, RD (Rodale, 2007).