While the Mediterranean Diet is not one specific diet plan, it reflects an eating pattern common to many countries in the Mediterranean region (Greece, Italy, Crete, Turkey, etc.) that is associated with decreased health risks and increased longevity.
Principles of this eating pattern include incorporating more whole grains, nuts, and legumes/beans; eating more fruits and vegetables; using olive oil as the primary fat in the diet, choosing fish and beans as the primary protein source, and limiting refined flours, sugars and high fat meats.
Studies have shown that for people with Type 2 diabetes, following a Mediterranean meal plan can decrease fasting glucoses, decrease A1C levels, and increase insulin sensitivity. It can also improve markers for heart disease, including decreasing blood pressure levels, and improving cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
If you’re not already following a meal plan that is Mediterranean based, it is easier than most people think. It’s a good idea to start with small changes. For instance, start with one of these steps at a time and before you know it, you’ll be eating healthier.
1. Substitute one meat meal a week with a fatty fish based meal. Examples of fatty fish include salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines.
2. Substitute one meat meal a week with a vegetarian based meal using beans or lentils.
3. Try a new whole grain once a month. Ideas include brown rice, quinoa, farro, barley or oats.
4. Increase your vegetable intake by at least one more serving per day
5. Use olive oil when sautéing, roasting and in homemade salad dressings. This will help to reduce your intake of other fats.
During COVID-19, it is still possible to incorporate Mediterranean eating principles into your diet. Canned and dried beans and lentils are readily available, as are canned tuna, salmon and sardines.
These, plus whole grains like farro, barley and oats, keep for long periods of time. Fresh vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, onions, turnips and carrots also store well. Take advantage of frozen vegetables, too.
Tip #1 recipe: Mediterranean Tuna Salad
2 (5 ounce) cans chunk light tuna in water, drained
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley or 1 tablespoon dried
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Combine tuna, onion and parsley in a medium bowl.
2. Whisk oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and pepper to make the dressing. Toss with the tuna mixture.
Serve on lettuce/spinach leaves with whole grain crackers
Serves: 4; Calories: 165; Carbohydrate: 2g; Protein: 17g; Total fat: 9.5g; Sodium: 200mg
Tip #2 recipe: Instant Pot Curry Lentil Soup
1 tablespoon butter
2 yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced or 1 tsp dried ginger
4 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 cup red lentils
1 cup green lentils
1 (13.5 oz) can lite coconut milk
1 (28 oz) can low sodium crushed or diced tomatoes
2 cups low sodium vegetable broth
2 cups fresh spinach or unthawed & drained spinach
1. Add all ingredients except spinach into an instant pressure cooker.
2. Seal instant cooker and set to pressure cook on high for 5 minutes.
3. Once the 5 minutes are complete, do a quick release of the pressure. Wait to open the lid until all the pressure has been released.
4. Add spinach and stir.
Serves: 12; Calories: 188; Fat: 12g; Protein: 9 g; Carbohydrate: 28 g; Fiber: 6 g; Sodium: 307 mg
Melissa Gaither is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist and provides both nutrition counseling and diabetes education and support. Melissa works with patients at the Healthpark, in Madisonville and Ohio County. She is also a certified lifestyle coach for the Diabetes Prevention Program. She helps with the diabetes support group and cooking programs for the public.
Amanda Owen is the founder and executive director of Puzzle Pieces. Follow Amanda’s Blog: Pieces of Me: Perspectives on Inclusion and Acceptance, www.piecesofme.org.