How To Eat The Mediterranean Way

The Mediterranean diet will put you on the fast track to health, here are some tips for eating like your in Southern Italy.

The Mediterranean diet is not really a "diet" in the sense of deprivation. It's more of an approach to food, a term used to describe the eating habits of people living in Crete, Greece, Southern Italy and Northern Africa.

There are no strict restrictions on what you may eat - carbohydrates, fat, fruit, protein, dairy are all allowed. The Mediterranean diet simply stresses certain foods in each of these groups over others. Of course, portion control is always a mandatory measure, along with watching your alcohol intake and exercise levels.

So why is the Mediterranean diet the new catchphrase on everyone's lips? Because communities have existed in these regions for centuries, exhibiting low levels of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Extensive research shows that it may be due to certain dietary habits that the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea have found such success with their diet. And with today's society wracked with obesity, heart disease and diabetes, Americans need all the help they can get in finding, and sticking to, a diet that is right for them.

Not too surprisingly, diets fail. When restrictions are placed on certain foods, many times people start to crave a particular item, and will eat their way around it rather than give in. Either that, or people eventually cave and binge. It's only human - science still doesn't fully understand why our bodies sometimes work against us in our quest to beat the bulge.

The Mediterranean diet, then, encourages certain foods over others, and also allows the participant to enjoy alcohol in moderation. It's a pleasant, way to lose weight and get healthy. So what's involved in eating Mediterranean?

The diets of the region are based on plant foods such as fruit, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds. Carbohydrates are found primarily in whole grains. Food used to be grown locally, without the use of pesticides or chemicals. Butter and margarine were never made, thus never consumed.



Fruit and vegetables of the region were consumed raw or sautéed, allowing them to retain their nutrients, antioxidants or fiber content. Many foods are prepared dry, without heavy sauces, or which a number of spices. Vegetables included leafy greens such as radicchio and romaine lettuce. Broccoli, zucchini, onions, potatoes, cauliflower, squash and a number of fibrous vegetables are consumed. Fruit included regional items such as tomatoes, which are full of lycopene and cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Carbohydrates are whole-grain, full of fiber, and low in sugar and white flour. Couscous is popular in Northern Africa, polenta and pasta in Southern Italy, bulgur and barley in Greece. Legumes such as black beans, white beans, pinto beans, lentils and chickpeas filled the bulk of the meal, contributing heart-healthy fiber and roughage to one's diet. Even pasta was made from whole-wheat and not the ever-popular white flour, as today.

Protein was consumed sparingly, and usually came from the Mediterranean Sea itself. Fish, veal, chicken and lean meat are preferred, with a noted absence of red meat.

Dairy is limited, the majority coming from yoghurt and cheese made from a number of animals, including goats, cows, camels and buffalo. The heavier, creamier sauces are actually a regional characteristic of Northern Italy, not the Mediterranean region. Milk is not a popular beverage, most people preferring to take a glass of water or wine with their meal.

Fat was actually used in abundance, but was found through natural plant sources such as olive oil, olives, avocadoes and figs. Fatty fish acids also provide a healthy dose of monosaturated fat. Diets may even have been composed of 40 percent fat, although it was very low in polyunsaturated and saturated fats. Used to sautee, to flavor, to preserve and as a dip itself, olive oil remains a major part of the Mediterranean diet.

In the Mediterranean regions wine is consumed regularly, although in moderation and with meals. Red wine is thought to hold a number of antioxidants, helping to clear the arteries and prevent heart disease. Moderation means a glass a day for women, two glasses for men.

Physical activity is another very important part of the Mediterranean diet. With everything being done by hand, with very little reliance on cars or transportation, exercise is integral to the Mediterranean lifestyle.

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