Med Instead of Meds

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Did you know that two-thirds of chronic diseases can be prevented by lifestyle changes, specifically diet and exercise? This means changing our eating patterns and spending more time moving. So why is this so hard? Research has found that people are feeling stuck. They feel eating healthy is too hard, too confusing, too expensive, not delicious, and time consuming. So how do we shift from feeling stuck to having that “can-do” attitude?

One solution is following the Mediterranean diet for better health. The Mediterranean diet has been voted the #1 diet for overall health 3 years in a row! Research has shown that there is a complete shift from how we were advised to eat in the past. A low-fat diet isn’t actually the best option for us. We went from eating healthy fats like nuts and oils, to eating low-fat foods like gummy bears and pretzels. We ended up increasing our refined carbohydrates, such as foods like white bread, pizza dough, white pasta, pastries, and white rice that contain limited nutrients, and decreasing many of the nutritious foods that were actually good for us. As science and research is improving, more evidence has shown the positive effects of consuming a Mediterranean diet. Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet can aid in weight loss, protects against cognitive decline, may improve eye health including decreasing the risk of macular degeneration, can decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, can help manage blood pressure, and can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease as much as 30%-60%. Most importantly, it’s delicious!

Here are some simple tips to eating the Med Way:

  1. Get at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Choose a variety of colors and eat more of the dark green, leafy vegetables such as collards, kale, spinach, and turnip greens.
  2. Try to increase plant-based proteins such as beans and legumes, and consume smaller portions of animal proteins.
  3. Choose whole grain foods such as oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, and popcorn. When choosing bread and pasta, look for “whole” as the first ingredient in the ingredients list.
  4. Choose at least three ounces of nuts per week, while keeping within your calorie budget. Avoid candied, honey-roasted and heavily salted nuts.
  5. Choose olive oil. Replace solid fats (e.g., butter and margarine) and other oils with olive oil. Use olive oil for cooking and in dressings and marinades. Aim to consume at least 4 tablespoons per day, while keeping within your calorie budget.
  6. Use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
  7. Eat seafood at least three times per week. Include fatty fish, such as mackerel and salmon. Avoid fried fish. Eat white-meat poultry, such as turkey and chicken, or white pork at least twice per week.

The Med Way also recommends moderate physical activity at least 150 minutes per week or 30 minutes per day.

At Cooperative Extension, we have a program called Med Instead of Meds to help you “Go Med!” In this series, we teach you how to cook, eat, and live the Med way while also learning how to plan meals, read labels, and practice mindful eating. As I begin a new Med Instead of Meds workshop series in partnership with The Center for Health + Wellness, I will be sharing tips and tricks from our curriculum to help you transition to “Go Med” over the next few weeks. Keep a lookout for how you can incorporate the Mediterranean diet into your life!