There is a lot of buzz about healthy eating with Mediterranean diets/lifestyle within foodservice operations and at home. Here’s some information that may help you, and your operations.
While there are 22 countries that border the Mediterranean diet, each with its own flavors and style of foods, typically, a Mediterranean diet is thought of as including largely Italian, Greek or Spanish foods. However, the simple principle of consuming mostly plant-based foods “can be applied to any culture in the world utilizing the crops that are readily available in that country. This is already true for the various countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. The same is true for virtually any cuisine across the world, from Africa and Asia to the South Pacific and beyond. That’s because there are certain commonalities in eating patterns from across the various countries that border the Mediterranean which form the basis of the Mediterranean diet. This cuisine reminds me of culinary diversity and diplomacy.
The traditional Mediterranean diet is plant based and focuses on whole grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil, herbs, and spices. Olive oil is the main source of added fat. It’s important to remember that extra virgin olive oil will improve a range of risk factors for chronic diseases. And extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)can make all food, and vegetables in particular, taste so much better which will please your clients. You can incorporate or layer a more moderately priced olive oil into your recipes and then drizzle a high end priced EVOO onto your finishing as a garnish to enhance the flavoring too. You can substitute if for butter for omelets, etc. Even a small amount of EVOO in your daily diet can yield many health and nutrient benefits. Fish, seafood, dairy, and poultry are included in moderation, and red meat is eaten only on occasion. Even wine in moderation.
The traditional Mediterranean diet is considered one of the most healthful dietary patterns in the world, with its combination of foods rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients. U.S. News & World Report’s annual review of diets has ranked the Mediterranean diet as the best overall diet in 2018 (when it tied for first place with the DASH diet), 2019, 2020, 2021, and now in 2022. That’s because researchers have studied the Mediterranean eating pattern or more than half a century and found it to be associated with the prevention of a host of diseases and conditions.
Many studies have demonstrated a strong relationship between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and a reduced risk of CVD, type 2 diabetes, several types of cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis. Research has shown that Mediterranean diets are linked with beneficial changes to the gut microbiome, such as increased production of short-chain fatty acids. Such beneficial changes in the gut microbiota have been associated with a decreased risk of several diseases and conditions.
A recent study found that diets rich in plant foods, like the Mediterranean diet, can add as many as 13 years to a person’s life if the pattern begins at a young age. In addition to being a healthful dietary pattern, the Mediterranean diet also contributes to a sustainable lifestyle. It has been considered the best evidence-based, healthful, sustainable diet compared with others.
But what if a client or patient is vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, or omnivorous? Can they still follow the Mediterranean diet and receive its health benefits? The good news is that with a few minor tweaks, the Mediterranean diet can easily cater and adapted to each of these dietary styles.
Modifying the Mediterranean Diet
Foods that are part of the daily diet in the Mediterranean may not be appealing to someone unfamiliar with them. Therefore, it’s important to educate patients, consumers and clients via tastings, food demos, showcase in your cafeterias and on your resident/patient menus incorporating these patients, and with science-based date the benefits and the important of the cuisine and eating pattern that conforms to the Mediterranean diet.
Key points to remember is that this cuisine is high in fiber, features whole foods and minimally processed foods, and includes moderate amounts of healthy fats.
• Vegetarian Mediterranean. There are many different types of vegetarians, but, in general, most avoid eating meat but will still eat eggs and dairy products. In a Mediterranean diet, beans, tofu, and other soy foods can be substituted for meat. Options are to add beans to soups and salads or make them into a dip.
• Vegan Mediterranean. In addition to the recommendations above, vegan clients will need to replace nutrients found in eggs and dairy. Options include almond milk, soymilk, pea milk, or any other plant-based milk in place of cow’s milk. Nut butters such as sunflower butter, almond butter or peanut butter are good sources of protein. Available today are nondairy spreads made with beans, such as black bean dip or hummus, or those made with fruits, such as avocado in guacamole.
• Pescatarian Mediterranean. The only difference between this pattern and the typical Mediterranean diet is that animal sources of protein aside from seafood aren’t included. The Mediterranean diet is big on fish and seafood in general, and especially emphasizes fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel.
• Omnivore Mediterranean. The difference here is inclusion of smaller amounts of lean foods from animals, authentic cheeses, including feta and Parmesan and lean meats/
To sum up
A Mediterranean-style diet is a healthful, environmentally friendly choice regardless of which adaptation. The benefits of the Mediterranean style eating pattern are also due to the healthy lifestyle changes it emphasizes. Daily physical activity and mental health maintenance are key components of this lifestyle and can contribute to the benefits of this diet too.