May Is National Mediterranean Diet Month

May 17, 2011 in Mediterranean, Nutrition, Whole Grains by Joyce Bunderson

Although the Mediterranean-style of eating has been around for millennia, and it has been known for five or six decades to be healthful, it continues to fascinate nutritional researchers. It’s amazing how the researchers keep learning facts that support why the Mediterranean-style of eating is such a good choice. These are a few news clips that caught my eye:

Olive Oil

With so much research pointing to the benefits of olive oil (cardiovascular, prevention of some cancers and the modification of immune and inflammatory responses), you are probably aware of this good news, but scientific research does continue to uncover more benefits. Nutrition and Metabolism published a study that has shown in a rat model, that liver damage could be reduced when the rats were exposed to a toxic herbicide, but in addition, extra virgin olive oil and its extracts were included in the diet.

As you know, if you read this blog, olive oil is an integral ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. You will notice if you peruse our Dr. Grandma’s Healthy Recipes that we always choose extra virgin olive oil, because it contains the highest amount of the powerful antioxidants and is linked to many health benefits.

Nutrition and Metabolism is kind enough to publish the article in its entirety; you may find the ‘background’ section as fascinating as I did. It’s a great review of the physiological benefits of including olive oil in your diet.


One of my precious memories in life is of driving around Italy, especially the steep colorful Amalfi Coast. The steep road was filled with switchbacks, providing overviews that allowed us to see into backyards. It seemed as though everyone had tomatoes, peppers, grapes and other vegetables in their back yards. I learned a gardening tip from that experience; the land was fairly dry, but the tomato fruit was profuse – don’t overwater the tomato plant.

The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine published a wonderful review article on the health benefits of eating tomatoes. Americans eat more tomatoes and tomato products than any other non-starchy vegetable. Tomatoes are an important part of disease risk reduction (cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, ultraviolet light-induced skin damage, and cognitive dysfunction, to name a few). One of the interesting facts about tomatoes is that it is a source of lycopene; and unlike most nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables, it actually becomes more available for use by our bodies, after cooking.

Remember the Dietary Guidelines for Americans? We’re specifically encouraged to consume foods from this “orange/red” fruit and vegetable group. Note: The study made no mention of the nutritional benefits of substituting yeast extracts for real tomatoes – what a crazy idea that is – except to increase profits for food manufacturers who can dispense with real, but more costly, tomatoes.

Fruits, Vegetables, Whole Grains

This study was not specifically about the Mediterranean-style of eating, but the foods emphasized are essentially the same. The researchers found that those who consumed a Western-type of diet that’s high in red and processed meats, saturated fats and sweets is associated with an increased risk of kidney function decline. They compared with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) diet, which is high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, like the Mediterranean-style of eating.  The study was published in the American Journal of Kidney Disease. Don’t forget the fruits, vegetables and whole grains; and reap the benefit of healthy kidneys.

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid can be downloaded to remind you of the aspects of the Mediterranean-style of eating.

  • It starts at the small ‘less often’ top section with sweets and meats. When we were in Italy, we had a gelato almost every evening. One of the very first things that an American will notice is that it is served as about a ¼ or 1/3 cup serving; as opposed to ¾ to one full cup per scoop in the U.S. It was a perfect serving size, a refreshing treat without a big load of guilt. My favorite was mango gelato. The flavor almost seemed to explode in my mouth. It must be time for a trip to Italy. I know gelato is in the ‘less often’ group, but how often do I visit Italy?
  • The next section is Poultry, Eggs, Cheese and Yogurt – moderate portions every two days to weekly.
  • Fish and seafood has its very own section – suggested to eat ‘often,’ at least two times per week.
  • Now we’re to the basis of the eating-style; fruits, vegetables, grains (mostly whole), olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes and seeds, herbs and spices. They suggest basing every meal on these foods – I love it and agree! Don’t skim by those two little words herbs and spices; not only do they contribute in a big way to being well nourished, they make these foods taste wonderful.
  • What is nice about the pyramid is that it sits on top of physical activity and enjoying meals with others.
  • Eating this largely plant-based diet with loving others can really help you slim down, in addition, to being well-nourished physically and socially.

Food Processors Recognize Low-Meat Focus

It appears that the food processors feel that the low meat Mediterranean-style of eating and those just trying to cut calories, is driving growth in the meat-alternative category. Meat-alternatives are becoming more mainstream than niche. I’ve noticed that you can get veggie ‘burgers’ at a variety of locations – that’s really nice, if you don’t want a big fat beef burger. Weight Watchers has given the BOCA a score of 2 to 4 PointsPlus per serving. See our coming articles regarding cholesterol – this is one easy place to take advantage of soy’s benefits in lowering cholesterol. Most of the soy products are lower in calories, fat, saturated and trans fat, than the meat-based products. If you are going to buy those products, you may want to watch the sodium in the various products.

There are many wonderful aspects of the Mediterranean-style of eating; the least is not the flavors and tastes of combining fresh whole foods with flavorful herbs and spices. It’s so marvelous to be fully delighted by a meal that is also optimally nourishing. Bon appetite! Or in Italian – Buon appetito! Good Health Can Be Yummy!

Below are some pictures of High Hopes for the Future:

Sweet basil - wish I could send the aroma. Umm!

Thai basil

Tomatoes - hope for fresh grown flavor.

Petite Negri - This little fig tree lives inside all winter - reminds me of California.

New grow boxes - new experience - new hope.

Some are promising.

Little green miracles.

How big can a cabbage get?

Tiny hints of lettuce and cabbage.

My first lettuce that lookes decent - the celery is still trying.

More little promsing shoots.

Rhubarb is a perennial - plant once harvest repeatedly.