Mediterranean Diet Basics

The basics of the Mediterranean diet can be broken into 9 important areas of change for your health:

1. Vegetables - This one's pretty easy. It’s hard to eat too many vegetables...
2. Legumes - Making beans your choice for a starch...
3. Fruits and nuts - Fruit is the perfect snack...
4. Cereals - Whole grains are really good for you...
5. Fish - More fish, less meat...
6. Olive oil - This really means eating more monounsaturated fat...
7. Dairy products - The traditional Mediterranean diet doesn’t have dairy products as a major focus...
8. Meats - Less meat and lean meats...
9. Alcohol - There is good evidence that moderate use of alcohol is good for you...

Need more information? Read about the research!

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The Mediterranean Diet

No. 6 - Oils and Fats

OlivesIn most studies on the Mediterranean Diet this is generally classified as olive oil. It really means eating more monounsaturated fat.

Olive oil is a good choice and is high in monounsaturated fats but so is canola oil. Grapeseed oil may be an even better oil for you than either olive or canola.

The key is that Dr. Trichopoulou’s research looked at the ratio of monounsaturated fat to saturated fat. The findings are clear that it is very important to decrease the use of highly saturated fats like butter, lard, shortening, palm kernel oil, coconut oil and any oil that has been hydrogenated.

Good choices Use carefully Avoid
Olive Oil Butter Lard
Canola Oil Coconut milk Coconut oil
Grapeseed oil Spreads like Smart Balance Light and Promise Light Stick margarine
Safflower oil Mayonnaise Vegetable shortening
Sesame oil Avocados Foods containing hydrogenated oils
Tahini (sesame seed butter)   Foods containing palm kernel oil
Peanut butter    

Canned Oil Spray
Canola Oil
Choosing Fats
Grapeseed Oil
Olive Oil
Olive Oil, Choosing

Research Articles - Monounsaturated Fats (Oils) in The Mediterranean Diet

You can read more about the science of why getting more monounsaturated fats is so good for you in these articles:

10 Things You Need to Know About Reading Food Labels
There are so many different types of foods out there that make claims about being healthy. The term "natural" is a good example of packaging that can be confusing. There is no regulation for the term "natural" and you could be purchasing a food that is made with 50% lard or is mostly sugar.

10 Things You Need to Know About Health Claims on Food Labels
The FDA allows health claims to be made on foods, but the assertion does have to meet certain criteria.

Olive Oil
In my travel this past week I had dinner in a restaurant that has been acclaimed in a number of food magazines as being one of the best in America. It certainly did not live up to its reputation, in spite of the apparent feeling of the staff that we were being treated to something "really special."

In Your Pantry: Fats
This week I get to talk a little about fats. I like to keep this simple. There's a lot of choices, and you could fill your house with bottles of different oils, but the following are the basic items that you should always have on hand and ones that you will use regularly for healthy cooking.

In Your Pantry: Refrigerator Items
This week is a very simple list of the items that you should begin stocking in your refrigerator. This is far from what might be a complete list but a starting place for those foods that will let you always have something healthy in the house to start (or complete) a meal or have a healthy snack.

Just a little olive oil
Olive oil has a well-deserved reputation for helping to reduce the risk of heart disease. Most of that reputation is from research into the Mediterranean Diet, so named because it is a collection of dietary habits followed by those in the region of the Mediterranean Sea.

Yet another reason to avoid trans-fats
You've seen it in the news: Trans-fatty acids have been linked to an increased risk of inflammation (leading to heart disease and cancers), insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Researchers at Harvard and the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts noted recently that factors relating to insulin sensitivity may have an effect on female infertility, which affects about 7 million women who are trying to conceive. Could eating foods containing trans-fatty acids be linked to infertility?

Tomatoes, Olive Oil, and Heart Disease
The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to protect against heart disease, but just why it does so isn't quite clear. Its effects have been credited to a variety of foods in the typical Mediterranean Diet, including components of the fruits and vegetables and the red wine.

Clinically proven!
More and more such claims as "clinically proven" are being found on food products. This is due to a wave of "functional foods" that are hitting the market. In some cases these can be great products with cholesterol lowering properties. In other cases the claims made are dubious.

Not just a monounsaturated fat anymore
I wrote yesterday about the effect of polyphenols in fruit juices on the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Polyphenols aren't just in fruit juices, however. Another excellent source of polyphenols is virgin olive oils, the oils from the first pressing of olives. The heart-healthy effects of the olive oil in the Mediterranean Diet has often been attributed to its being a monounsaturated fat, but researchers in Europe theorized that they might be the polyphenols in the olive oil

Small Changes Can Have a Big Impact
You probably are aware that being overweight has a negative impact on your blood pressure, and that high blood pressure can lead to stroke and heart attack and even death. Losing weight is the obvious answer, but how much weight do you have to lose to make a difference in your heart health?

Dietary Fat and the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease
It has become clearer and clearer that diets high in saturated fat and trans fats are associated with health problems. I have written about many different research studies that link diets high in these types of fats with heart disease and stroke. Recently, however, a very well designed study shows a clear connection between Alzheimer's Disease and an increased intake of saturated and trans fat.

Good Fats Appear to Protect You From Pneumonia
Much has been written in my columns and in the press about good fats. A great deal of research has gone into this in the last few years, and while our knowledge is still evolving, it appears that eating foods rich in Omega 3 fats and Omega 6 fats is beneficial to your health.