Mediterranean Diet Benefits (cont.)

How to Follow a Mediterranean Diet

Of course, we don't have to move to the Mediterranean to reap the benefits of this region's good health habits. How can we go about adopting into our lifestyles?

According to the American Heart Association, there is not one single "Mediterranean diet." Instead, there's a dietary pattern: Plenty of plant foods (perhaps as much as a pound a day), limited amounts of animal protein, and very little saturated fats.

The Mediterranean diet also emphasizes minimally processed, fresh, and preferably local foods. Typical meals include plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds, olive oil, whole grains, pasta, and cereals, with lesser amounts of fish, poultry, eggs, and low-fat dairy, and even smaller amounts of meat. A glass of wine is almost always served with lunch and dinner.

If you visit the Mediterranean region, you may also notice that the locals tend to enjoy leisurely dining, taking pleasure in savoring their meals. And while they eat plenty of healthy fats and drink some alcohol, they generally aren't plagued with weight problems. That's because the quantity of food they consume is balanced with regular physical activity.

You can embrace the Mediterranean style of eating by making smart food choices. Select whole grains for your breads, cereals, and starches. Choose fish, low-fat dairy, poultry, nuts, and legumes to satisfy your protein needs (include some lean meat as well). Bulk up on vegetables. And, most important, reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet and use olive or canola oil instead of butter.

That's not to say you can pour it on with abandon.

"Calories and portions still count, even when they are healthy," says Dawn Blatner, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "These oils are good for the heart but hard on the waistlines because all oils contain 120 calories per tablespoon."

Blatner advises a double-handed pour method for oils -- "one hand on the bottle and one hand holding a measuring spoon. No freehand pouring, or you will end up with much more fat and calories than you need."

If you enjoy alcohol, women can include one serving a day and men can have two servings daily and still meet the recommendations of the American Heart Association and the U.S. dietary guidelines.

The bottom line is that research on the Mediterranean diet shows once again that good nutrition and physical activity are a prescription for a long and healthy life. There seems to be an infinite number of health reasons why we need to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains -- and weight loss is just one of them.

Medically Reviewed July 30, 2008.

Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association.
Arthur Agatston, MD, cardiologist; author, The South Beach Diet Supercharged.
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WebMD Health News: "Diet Debate: 3 Plans Go Toe to Toe."

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Last Editorial Review: 7/30/2008