Instead of saying 'diet', I like to use the term 'eating pattern' which refers to the quantities, proportions, variety, or combinations of different foods and beverages that are habitually consumed over a long period of time. Dietary patterns can help predict health later in life.
The Mediterranean eating pattern is associated with a lower incidence of mortality from all causes in addition to a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. There are also positive associations with blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammatory markers, and body mass index. In a recent study conducted at the University of Illinois, researchers found a relationship between blood levels of several key nutrients associated with Mediterranean-style foods and healthy brain connectivity and cognition in older adults. The nutrients that were analyzed and linked to enhanced cognitive performance include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, carotenoids, lycopene, riboflavin, folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. These nutrients can all be found in the Mediterranean eating pattern. Check out the all-stars below and incorporate more of these into your meals for improved brain function.
The Mediterranean eating pattern has won the "best overall diet" for several years in a row, and top spot in several subcategories: best diet for healthy eating, best diet for diabetes, best plant-based diet, and easiest diet to follow.
Mediterranean All-Stars- add these nutritional powerhouses to your meals more often.
- Healthy Fats- this includes olive oil and avocados (monounsaturated fats) as well as nuts, nut butter, and seeds (polyunsaturated fats).
- Fish/seafood- a good goal is to eat fish twice a week to reach your omega-3 fat needs for heart health benefits. Good options include salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, mussels, clams, oysters, and shrimp.
- Yogurt- look for Greek yogurt which delivers twice the protein of regular yogurt and can be used in place of butter, cream cheese, sour cream, and oil in your favorite recipes.
- Beans/lentils- a great source of protein, fiber, and folate; swap beans for meat a couple of times a week for meatless meals.
- Whole Grains- swap out white rice and pasta for nutrient-rich grains like farro, barley, bulgur, and quinoa. They can be used in salads, stir-fry, soups, and wraps. Since these are unrefined, you will be getting healthy fats, B vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein.
- Vegetables- vary your veggies and eat a variety of colors to maximize your vitamin and mineral intake. Instead of chips and dip try this Mediterranean-inspired dip with raw vegetable strips for dipping.
Let's all make an effort to include more of these nutritional powerhouses into our diets as if our lives depended on it because they do! For more inspiration, check out the article, Give your meals a Mediterranean makeover.
Mediterranean Dip (PDF Version)
- 17 oz. family size container classic hummus (or 2 smaller containers)
- 5.3 oz. container Greek yogurt, plain (smaller individual serving)
- 4 oz. container or 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled or cubed
- 1 chopped and diced tomato
- 1 cucumber, deseeded, diced
- ¼ cup Kalamata olives cut in half
- ¼ cup chopped red onion
- 1 T. fresh or dried herbs (basil, thyme, dill, oregano)
- 1 T. olive oil
- 1 tsp. freshly cracked ground black pepper
- Dash of salt (optional)
In a small bowl, stir together hummus and Greek yogurt until well mixed. Transfer mixture to a serving platter. Spread mixture out, top with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, and olives. Season with fresh or dried herbs, fresh cracked pepper, and salt if using. Adjust seasonings according to taste. Drizzle with olive oil. Serve with carrot coins, celery, bell pepper strips, pretzels, or pita bread.
Yield: 10 servings
Nutritional analysis per serving: (dip portion only) 81 Calories, 4.4 g fat, 4 mg cholesterol, 119 mg sodium, 6 g carbohydrate, 5.3 g protein, 1 g fiber (for more fiber, serve with whole-grain pita bread and raw veggies)
Recipe adapted from Susan Glassman, nutrition and wellness educator serving Bureau, LaSalle, Marshall and Putnam Counties.