• Med Life

    Kathleen ZelmanOf all the diet crazes that have seized Americans in the past 40 years (remember the grapefruit diet?), the Mediterranean diet is the one with staying power. Nutrition professionals recommend it today as enthusiastically as they have for decades—only now with even more research behind it.

    “It’s considered one of the healthiest diets on the planet,” says Kathleen Zelman, MPH, R.D., L.D., a nutrition communications expert. “Reams of research show the health benefits. The Mediterranean way of life is a wonderful model.”

    Notice what she said? The “way of life” is what we need to emulate. “It’s not just about the diet,” confirms Zelman. “It’s the leisurely dining, the regular physical activity, the portion control. Wine is there, but not too much. It’s all tied together.”

    More than a dozen countries border the Mediterranean Sea, so there is no single Mediterranean Diet. Morocco, Sicily, Turkey, and Greece have obvious culinary differences but also many commonalities: olive oil as the principal fat; a taste for plant-based meals abundant in fruits, vegetables, beans and grains; and a preference for minimally processed food.

    “It’s not a low-fat diet at all,” notes Zelman, “but the fat is healthy fat, unsaturated fat. In fact, the percentage of calories from fat in these diets is on the high end of what some recommend, but the research is compelling. It’s not about the percentage of fat in your diet, but about the type and quality of the fat.”

    Eggs, seafood, cheese, and other dairy products contribute protein to Mediterranean meals; typically, meat plays a supporting role. In her own kitchen, Zelman relies on eggs to boost the protein in Mediterranean-inspired dishes, often topping a pizza with an egg, for example. She cooks up large batches of whole grains on the weekend—freekeh (roasted immature wheat) is a current favorite—for use throughout the week. She might stir-fry the freekeh (or wild rice, brown rice or quinoa) with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes then put a fried egg on top.

    For lunch, she loves an open-faced sandwich: whole-grain bread topped with arugula and a fried egg. Boiled eggs stuffed with hummus are another hit at her house; she adds the mashed yolk to the hummus. A frittata is her go-to dish when the vegetable drawer fills with remnants. A lone zucchini, a bell pepper half, a quarter of a red onion, the last sprigs of parsley, and a handful of grated cheese can meet up in a thick frittata. Leftovers? Tuck cold sliced frittata into whole-wheat pita with a swipe of aioli and a few leaves of soft lettuce.

    At Mediterranean tables, fresh fruit stars at dessert. To accompany mixed berries or poached fruits, Zelman likes to prepare a warm custard sauce, replacing the recipe’s cream with low-fat milk.

    Anyone can adopt a slower Mediterranean lifestyle and participate in its potential benefits: easier weight control; improved heart health; prevention of type 2 diabetes; longevity.

    “Mountains of research substantiate how this lifestyle diet can be beneficial on so many levels,” says Zelman.

     Egg Cobb Salad

    Featured recipe: Better than a Cobb salad, and better for you: Mediterranean Vegetable Salad with Preserved Lemon Dressing