When it comes to the Mediterranean diet, there is only good news to report. Not only are Mediterranean foods tasty, they also rank among the healthiest. And you don’t need to be a world traveler to enjoy the benefits of this way of eating. Healthy recipes with the delightful flavors of Spain, Greece, Morocco, Italy, and Turkey can easily be copied almost anywhere. Here are five must-eat foods that will help you “go Mediterranean.”
Walnuts are a staple of the Mediterranean diet. They are the oldest tree food known to man, dating back to 7000 BC. They are also nutritional powerhouses, providing alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based omega-3 fat. Plus they are antioxidant-rich and have 4 grams protein and 2 grams fiber per serving. In addition to being heart-healthy, walnuts can also reduce your risk for diabetes, certain types of cancer, and may help keep your mind sharp as you age. Best of all, walnuts are a delicious addition to many favorite recipes – from appetizers to desserts. They can even make fried chicken a more healthful choice. Try this delicious Walnut Coated “Smart” Fried Chicken.
Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are among the world’s oldest cultivated foods. Chickpeas are rich in fiber and protein. They also contain vitamins and minerals such as folic acid (chickpeas tend to be higher in folic acid than other beans), zinc, and magnesium. Many Mediterranean-style soups and salads feature chickpeas. “Mashed Chickpeas” (a.k.a. hummus) is created by combining pureed chickpeas with lemon juice or vinegar, tahini (sesame seed butter), garlic, and olive oil. Try making your own.
Olive oil is the quintessential ingredient in most Mediterranean meals. Whether you are sautéing, making a pasta sauce, or a dip for your bread, this healthy oil is sure to add flavor, taste, and texture. Be sure to look for extra virgin olive oil, as it’s made from the first pressing of the olives and contains the highest levels of antioxidants. Studies have shown that extra virgin olive oil may increase good HDL cholesterol in the blood and help reduce the risk of heart disease. Boost your vegetable intake, and add a delicious side order to your meal by sautéing broccoli, kale, or spinach in a little olive oil and garlic.
Ever wonder why Italian and Greek women can maintain a beautiful complexion well into their 70s and beyond? Perhaps salmon, and other omega-3 rich fish, may be their secret. In addition to the heart health benefits of this Mediterranean staple, the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish like salmon are important for keeping skin smooth and healthy. While the research is still early, one recent study published in The Journal of the American College of Nutrition found older people who consumed more fish throughout their life had fewer wrinkles than those who ate more meat. Salmon and other fish rich in omega-3s are easy to fit into a Mediterranean-style diet. For a simple, succulent meal, try this Mediterranean Salmon Pasta.
While tomatoes are native to the Americas, they are integral to the Mediterranean style of eating. Conquistadors encountered tomatoes when they arrived in the New World. When they carried their discovery back to Spain, the name became tomate. From there, tomatoes made their way to the rest of Europe.
Tomatoes bring amazing flavor and nutrition to sauces, salads, stews, and pizzas. Be sure to try one of my favorite recipes using tomatoes: Seared Shrimp with Tomato and Avocado.
Katherine Brooking, MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian, writer and expert contributor to numerous television programs. She has appeared on The TODAY Show, Live with Regis & Kelly, The Early Show on CBS, Good Morning America Health, and many others. She covers health and wellness topics in SELF Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and New York Daily News. For more information go to AppForHealth.com.
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