By Amy Riolo and Dr. Sam Pappas
Amy Riolo & THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET
THE BEST DIET OF 2019
The ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates often stressed the importance of both lifestyle and diet in order to obtain what he referred to as “positive health.” He stated; “But eating alone is not enough for health. There must also be exercise, of which the effects must likewise be known.” He also stressed the importance of seasonality and the weather, as well as people’s age and home life. The tenants of the Mediterranean lifestyle have been used to heal the body for millennia, but modern culture does not always take advantage of this knowledge. An unhealthy diet is the leading risk factor for death, causing more than 500,000 U.S. deaths in 2016, according to a new study.
As a result, many people are looking for “new” ways not only to heal themselves, but also prevent illness while enjoying their food at the same time. The Mediterranean “diet” is the perfect solution for many reasons. It is known as the healthiest in the world because it is not truly a diet, but rather a lifestyle that prescribes a lot of what we should eat, and a little of what we shouldn’t, along with shared physical and social activities. Daily walks followed by contemplating the cosmos are ancient rituals that have a positive impact on our health. These easy and free practices are still enjoyed in the Mediterranean region, and should be implemented by those seeking well-being. Oldways, a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization that created the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, refers to the Mediterranean diet as “the gold standard eating pattern that promotes lifelong good health.”
The base of the Pyramid shows the importance Mediterranean cultures place on enjoying meals with others and being physically active. Regardless of religion, ethnicity, or language, the people of the Mediterranean region share a common desire to spend time eating and socializing with friends. In the Muslim countries of the Mediterranean region, there are even prophetic sayings encouraging believers to choose who they eat with before they decide what to eat. Even in antiquity, the Greek philosopher Epicurus said “We should look for someone to eat and drink with before we look for something to eat or drink.”
The Mediterranean diet is a “modern” eating plan based upon the age-old traditional diet and lifestyle of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Best of all, while many of the recipes, ingredients, and traditions celebrated in the Mediterranean diet have been around for centuries, they are easily adaptable into today’s busy lifestyle and suitable for modern palates. There are no fads, special “diet” foods, or modern technology needed to achieve successful results. There are no formulas, exchanges, or point systems to master. Best of all, you don’t need a nutrition label to determine what fits into the lifestyle. Centered on healthful, whole foods eaten in moderation, sticking to the Mediterranean diet becomes second nature.
One glance at the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid reveals the majority of items that should be eaten or practiced at the wider, bottom portion of the triangle. The items that should be eaten sparingly appear at the top. All you need to do to successfully follow the Mediterranean diet is switch your mentality to traditional means of pre- paring and eating natural, whole foods, getting regular physical activity, and making a commitment to prepare and eat foods in community whenever possible.
The term “diet,” however, is a misnomer as evidenced by deeper meaning of its origin from the Greek word dieta. A more appropriate definition of the original Greek would best describe this as a way of life; encompassing such areas of importance as the quality of food, eating with others, nothing in excess, the rhythm of the day, and important religious and spiritual tenets such as fasting. Technically the Mediterranean Diet is the diet of the olive growing regions of the Mediterranean Sea which was first described in the late 1950s/ early 1960s by American scientists to explain the diet of post-World War II Greece, specifically the island of Crete, and Southern Italy, with extension to other countries in the region. The traditional Mediterranean Diet is the heritage resulting from millennia of exchanges within the Mediterranean basin region that has de ned and characterized the eating habits of the countries in those regions until the mid- twentieth century. It is thus not surprising that we have come to nd research that such a dietary approach is able to assist those with impaired metabolism and diabetes as well as heart disease, hypertension, cognitive impairments, and other issues.
There has been compelling evidence that the Mediterranean Diet and its components are associated with reductions in metabolic syndrome features and that such a diet prevents both the occurrence of diabetes and its complications. Perhaps even more importantly there has been no negative study reported thus far. Although there is research supporting other dietary approaches to help with diabetes such as a low carbohydrate or vegetarian based diet, it is my opinion that a Mediterranean type diet is the ideal place to begin. It shares with all successful nutritional plans the absence of processed and artificial ingredients; is easily reproducible as it is associated with benefits to populations throughout a vast geographic and cultural landscape including not only the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East but encompassing Northern Europe, the United States, and parts of Asia; has a very high compliance rate because it is enjoyable, an area de-emphasized in most diets; encompasses a balance of the whole spectrum of macronutrients and includes at its core healthy fats, which have been unnecessarily minimized and vilified for far too long; is abundant in bioprotective micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which are critical to optimal health; is easily customizable so that macro nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats can be altered based on personal needs and goals (for example there is exciting research that a lower carbohydrate Mediterranean Diet is effective for weight loss and improving markers of dysfunctional metabolism); and when expressed in its most traditional origins is enjoyed with others in a relaxing setting.
Another fantastic benefit of the Mediterranean lifestyle is that it offers different eating plans for different types of people – there is no “one size fits all diet.” The Mediterranean “diet” allows each adherent to choose the type and balance of nutrients that they need. It also enables people to choose from types of foods that are seasonal and local in their area. Plant-based foods such as fresh, seasonal produce, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, fish and seafood, dairy and poultry, and on occasion – meats and sweets can all be enjoyed by those who choose to follow a Mediterranean eating plan.
Many people who live outside of the region ask us how they can incorporate some Mediterranean-style habits into their busy, modern lifestyles.
Here’s what we recommend:
Getting outdoors as often as possible and partake in the bountifulness of nature.
Push the pause button routinely and engage in a contemplative state away from the noise and complexity of modernity. We highly recommend intermittent periods of silence, simplicity, and solitude. There are many types of short, effective meditations that are available for free online.
Engage and connect with others, it’s good for lowering your stress hormones and for improving one’s outlook.
Assess how your social surroundings are effecting your health philosophy. Recent studies point to the fact that you are more apt to gain weight if your friend or colleague is overweight than if your parents had a weight problem.
Exercise is an extremely important factor in the Mediterranean lifestyle, and it keeps people healthy. Nightly walks with family and friends, more walking due to limited parking, and the abundance of stairs promote an active lifestyle all over the region. In the U.S., we definitely need to be more creative in order to achieve healthy weights. We need 30–60 minutes of exercise most days to compensate for our sedentary lifestyle.
WAYS TO INCORPORATE EXERCISE ARE TO:
• Play a team sport.
• Take the stairs and walk whenever possible.
• Take walks after meals.
• Sign up for exercise and/or dance classes.
• Meet friends and relatives at parks, gyms, sports meets, or lessons, rather than at restaurants.
• Invite people to walk and window shop while catching up instead of sitting down and talking.
• Cook your own meals! Shopping for produce at markets, going grocery shopping, preparing food, and cooking are great ways to burn additional calories.
IN THE KITCHEN, WE RECOMMEND:
1. ANALYZE YOUR SITUATION
• Make a list of budget and time concerns in terms of diet and food preparation.
• List health, personal, and family goals for nutrition and lifestyle.
• With your list of desired outcomes in hand, look at a work schedule that also contains family events and socializing.
• Find “pockets” of time to plan meals, grocery shop, and prepare meals.
2. ORGANIZE YOUR TIME
• Decide which pockets of time you will use to prepare food.
• Make healthy meals in advance and refrigerate or freeze them for times when you can’t cook.
• Use socializing time as cooking, shopping, or prep time—invite friends and family over for a healthy meal or picnic.
• Meet at each other’s homes and prepare food together.
• Delegate food shopping and prepping tasks to friends and family.
• Make food shopping and farmer’s markets an activity to be enjoyed with others.
3. DEVELOP A GOOD PANTRY
• Our ancestors knew best when they stocked pantries – no longer a necessity, having healthful staples on hand will make cooking your own meals easier.
1. PLAN MEALS WISELY
• Before you go to sleep each night, take some time to decide what you will eat the following day.
• Make sure you have the necessary ingredients.
• If you work outside of the home, plan on making lunch in advance.
• Bring healthful snacks with you wherever you go to avoid eating junk food.
• Save time and money by being your own personal chef!
• If your mornings are hurried, keep plenty of low-fat yogurt, whole grain cereal, soy nuts, part-skim cheeses, low-fat cereal bars, and fresh fruit on hand.
• Make sure that you start your day with the proper nutrients, and don’t skip meals.
• One of the easiest ways to make lunch is to bring leftovers from the previous night’s meal. If the nightly meal was wholesome and healthy, you don’t have to think about making something separate for lunch. Try making extra at dinner for this purpose.
• If you don’t like the idea of eating the same thing two days in a row, freeze large batches of soups and stews in individual portions and defrost them daily to have for lunch.
• Pack salads in individual serving-size containers with dressings on the side to bring to work with soups and stews.
• For days when you can’t bring lunch, keep your own homemade “menu” of tasty and healthful lunch items from nearby stores or cafes.
• Plan weekday dinners on the weekend beforehand.
• Use time over the weekend to begin prepping and preparing meals to cut down on time spent preparing meals after work.
• Choose dishes that are quick, satisfying, and healthful to make during the week.
5. SPECIAL OCCASIONS
This is your chance to really get creative and have fun!
• Enjoy the process of creating a delicious seasonal menu for family and friends.
• Make breads and baked goods up to a month in advance and store them in the freezer.
•Indulge in preparing recipes that you normally do not have the time to make.
•Periodically, make your favorite special- occasion meals for everyday dining.
ABOUT CHEF AMY RIOLO AND DR. SAM PAPPAS
Chef Amy Riolo and Dr. Sam Pappas have teamed up to o er the latest culinary and medical inspirations to live and eat with pleasure and health. Through public forums, panel discussions, webinars, a Facebook Live series, cooking classes, and workshops, they teach the tenants of the Mediterranean Diet along with the tips and techniques needed to fit them into a busy lifestyle.
ABOUT DR. PAPPAS
Dr. Sam Pappas is a board-certified physician in Internal Medicine. He completed medical school at Pennsylvania State College of Medicine and training (including a year as Chief Resident) at Case Western Reserve University/University Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. He has been selected as a Top Doctor in the Washingtonian Magazine, Northern Virginia Magazine, and Washington Consumers Checkbook and has been in practice for over 15 years in a variety of positions including roles as a clinician, educator, and private practice physician. He is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM), the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), and Metabolic Medical Institute (MMI), transformative health care organizations that seek to shift the paradigm from organ-based diseases to functional dynamic systems.
ABOUT AMY RIOLO
As an award-winning, best-selling, author, chef, television personality, cuisine and culture expert, and educator, Amy Riolo is known for sharing history, culture, and nutrition through global cuisine. A graduate of Cornell University, Amy is one of the world’s foremost experts on culinary culture. Amy is a food historian, culinary anthropologist and Mediterranean Diet advocate who makes frequent appearances on numerous television and radio programs both in the United States and abroad, including Fox TV, ABC, CBS, NBC, The Hallmark Channel, Nile TV, The Travel Channel, Martha Stewart Living Radio, and Abu Dhabi Television. She also created and appeared weekly in ninety second cooking videos entitled “Culture of Cuisine” which air on nationally syndicated news shows on 28 different channels across the United States, totalling a reach of over 300 million people. One of her videos reached a record of four million hits.