Delving deeper into the foods and serving sizes consumed in the Mediterranean Diet and the benefits they provide, so you can easily transition!
Now that we have discussed the benefits of MD and the scientific evidence behind this phenomenal diet, it is time to ask the more practical question: “How do I go Mediterranean?”.
If you’re someone who has diabetes, who is at a high risk for the onset of diabetes, or who is unhealthy/overweight, then you need to keep reading. I will be providing you with some essential tips on how to transition from your current diet to the MD. I will also be delving deeper into the exact amounts of food to consume to reap the benefits of this diet.
As was described before, the MD is a great diet that has several health benefits for the heart and other related diseases such as diabetes, strokes, and obesity. Several scientific studies have evaluated the benefits of MD and encourage diabetic patients to consume this diet. First and foremost, it is essential for us to understand what the diet consists of and what a daily meal looks like.
Instead of refined and simple carbohydrates, the MD contains complex and whole grain carbohydrates. Thus, the first strategy would be “Carb Counting”. Counting the amount of carbohydrates one consumes is essential to keep the blood sugar levels in the blood under maintenance. Here is an example of some of the carbohydrates in MD:
- Whole grain bread
However, you may be wondering, how much should I consume in a meal if I want to follow the MD? Well, according to the University of Winsconsin Department of Health, 4 to 6 servings of whole grains are required per day in MD (UW Health, 2019). Some examples of what 1 serving looks like would be:
- 1 slice of whole wheat bread
- ½ cup of potatoes
- 6 whole grain crackers
- ½ cup of brown rice/pasta
- ½ cup of oatmeal
Time for a fun fact! Complex carbohydrates keep you full longer, are high in fiber, and don’t raise your blood sugar level drastically (Kielhorn et al., 2018).
Healthy Fats and Protein
The MD is heavy on the healthy fats and protein, luckily foods with these fats are quite delicious. Fatty foods consist of:
- Salmon fish
- Olive oil
A very important idea to note is that seafood with healthy fats also contain a very high amount of protein. Salmon, tuna, and nuts/seed are great sources of protein. Protein is essential for health and body because it replenishes our muscles, it is used to produce enzymes, and maintain our organs and general physiology. Low protein will lead to weakness, thus consuming high amounts in the MD is very beneficial because along with seafood, it contains meat as well.
But what exactly are healthy fats? These fats are the ones that help our body, brain, and muscles function properly. These fats are unsaturated, meaning that they are liquid at room temperature. These fats are also not trans fats, which means that the carbon bond between the carbon atoms are on opposite sides. Unsaturated are better than saturated fats because the latter fats lead to cardiovascular diseases, increased and clogged arteries, high LDL cholesterol, which is the bad cholesterol, and inflammation and oxidation in the body, which is detrimental to our bodies. Along with these complications, unhealthy fats can lead to increased risk of diabetes, insulin resistance, and weight gain (Liu et al., 2017). Therefore, healthy fats are better for our hearts, weight, diabetes risk, and cholesterol levels.
How much should you consume? Well according to the University of Winsconsin, poultry is not very common in the MD but one serving should be consumed 1 to 3 times per week; one serving is
- 3 ounces of red or white meat.
With regards to healthy fats and protein, I will divide the amounts into seafood, oils, and legumes (nuts). Seafood: 2 to 3 times per week
- 3 ounces of salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel
The high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids have beneficial effects on triglyceride levels and blood cells (UW Health, 2019).
Oils: 4 to 6 servings per day
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 tsp mayonnaise
- 1/8 of an avocado
- 2 tsp light margarine
These unsaturated fats can reduce LDL, and are high in calories so keep intake limited (UW Health, 2019).
Legumes (nuts): 2 to 4 servings per day
- 1 tbsp peanut butter
- 7-8 walnuts
- 12-15 almonds
- 20 peanuts
Legumes and nuts are high in fiber, protein, healthy fats, and minerals.
Fun fact: Healthy fats can improve your heart’s health and make you lose weight through a process of beta-oxidation (Liu et al., 2017).
Dairy, Veggies, and Alcohol
The MD also consists of dairy products. These products are healthy because they are a great source of calcium, vitamin D and even folate (B vitamins). Dairy products such as yogurt also contain high levels of protein and healthy fats, which are heathy as aforementioned.
The serving size is 1 t 3 times per day and examples of a serving are:
- 1 cup of skim milk (fortified with calcium)
- 1 cup of soy yogurt
- 1 ounce of cheese (specifically soy cheese)
Non-starchy vegetables are a staple in the MD, as should be in any regular diet. Vegetables are obviously extremely nutritious; they provide excellent vitamins, minerals and benefits for our bodies. These compounds have essential roles to help maintain our health. For instance, vitamin C is necessary for the adequate functioning of our immune system (UW Health, 2019). In the MD, one should consume 4 to 8 servings of vegetables in a day, which is:
- ½ cup cooked broccoli
- ½ cup cooked Brussel sprouts
- 1 cup of raw broccoli
- 1 cup of raw cabbage/carrots
- 1 cup of green vegetables: spinach, celery, green salads, tomatoes
Finally, a very interesting part of the MD is alcohol consumption, specifically in wine form. The MD requires its followers to drink up to 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. “WHY?”, you may ask, well, alcohol may be very beneficial. It has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, and prevent against dementia (Bachai, 2013).
Along with the food, it is important to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle, as a lot of people in the Mediterranean lead physically active lifestyles to maintain their health. So before turning on the television after work, put on your running shoes and go for a jog! Your body will thank you afterwards.
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Liu, A. G., Ford, N. A., Hu, F. B., Zelman, K. M., Mozaffarian, D., & Kris-Etherton, P. M. (2017). A healthy approach to dietary fats: Understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutrition Journal,16(1). doi:10.1186/s12937-017-0271-4
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