Have you ever heard of a diet that’s not just a passing fad, but one that is beneficial for just about everybody? There is one out there, and it’s called the Mediterranean Diet.
So, what is the Mediterranean Diet, anyway? It was first described by American scientist Ancel Keys, whose research in the 1950s showed that heart disease wa rare in countries whose inhabitants ate more vegetables, whole grains, fruit, beans, fish and plant oils such as olive oil.
Many studies have looked at this way of eating since that time and found benefits including prolonged survival, decreased death from cardiovascular disease, and even less cognitive decline with aging.
In spite of this diet being higher in fat – the “healthy fat,” such as olive oil and the fat from tree nuts such as walnuts (read here for more information on the different types of fat) – this diet has also been shown to help people lose weight and control blood sugar levels.
Remember, there is more to this than just food choices. In the 1950s, the people of the Mediterranean region also enjoyed leisurely meals, usually with family and friends, spent more time walking, gardening and biking for recreation and transportation, and enjoyed a glass or two of wine – usually red. The general consensus among the researchers is that the Mediterranean lifestyle of that era greatly contributed to lower rates of heart disease and other health benefits.
As a dietitian, I often hear Veterans say they have busy lives and don’t have time to fit in all of these guidelines. This is understandable. I encourage them by saying that any changes made in the direction of a more “Mediterranean life” will help. Here are some simple changes that other Veterans I’ve worked with have made to improve their health:
- Choose more plant foods such as vegetables, fruit, beans, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
- Get more of the fat in your diet from olive oil, nuts and fish.
- Choose more fish and plant-based proteins or low-fat dairy rather than red meat and full-fat dairy.
- Eat fruit for dessert rather than sweets.
- For flavor, use more herbs, garlic and onion, and less salt.
- Choose more seasonal and fresh foods and fewer convenience products containing hydrogenated fats and added sugars.
- Use simple cooking methods; avoid deep-fat fried foods.
- If alcohol is allowed in your life, include a glass of wine with a meal or two.
- Slow down when you eat, and enjoy the meal in the company of others, when possible.
- Increase the physical activity in your life.
For more ways to “go Mediterranean,” consider a visit with your VA dietitian or the MOVE weight management program at your local VA. There are a few ways to be involved with MOVE, including group classes, home monitoring (telehealth), individual appointments with a dietitian and telephone support programs. Call your local VA today to get started!
Anne Koth has been a VA dietitian for 20 years. She divides her time between Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee and the Rockford, Illinois VA clinic.