Mediterranean Diet: The World's Healthiest Diet?

By Rachel Johnson, Ph.D, M.P.H., R.D., "The World's Healthiest Diet?," September/October 2008

Research shows that eating like a Mediterranean is good for your waist as well as your heart.

"'Eating Mediterranean' doesn't necessarily mean flavoring everything with rosemary and covering it in tomato sauce. As long as the basics are there (lots of legumes, vegetables and whole grains, limited meat, healthy fats, fish), you can...

2. Get most of your protein from beans and fish. Swap out some of your meat and get your protein from beans, nuts and other plants. By displacing meat, you’ll lower your saturated-fat intake while adding healthful nutrients, like fiber and antioxidant-rich flavonols. Heverling recommends starting with a few small changes: aim to make a plant-based dinner, like meatless chili once or twice a week. Or make the focus of the meal whole grains and vegetables and think of meat as a flavoring; for example, use a little diced pancetta in a tomato sauce for pasta.

3. Make olive oil your staple fat. Give heart-healthy olive oil as well as other plant-based oils like canola and walnut oil star billing over saturated-fat-laden, LDL-cholesterol-raising butter, lard or shortening—even in baking. Or do as the Greeks do and sauté your vegetable dishes in olive oil (ladera, or “oily” style) to highlight their flavor. Learn to appreciate extra-virgin olive oils with plenty of flavor, advises Antonia Trichopoulou, M.D., from the University of Athens School of Medicine: “Look for a yellow or green olive oil with a rich smell and taste.” Pale, odorless oils are fine for baking and frying and are still high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, she adds, “but they are lacking in the more than 200 microcomponents that have beneficial effects on health.” Microcomponents like oleocanthal, for ­example, which is a potent anti-inflammatory found in extra-virgin olive oils.

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