Med Instead of Meds

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It’s National Mediterranean Diet month! 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. 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.

A hybrid style Med Instead of Meds workshop series will begin May 11th at 5:30 p.m. In this series, you will learn how to cook, eat, and live the Med way while also learning how to plan meals, read labels, and practice mindful eating. To read more about the series and to sign-up, visit go.ncsu.edu/springmed. This series is sponsored by United Way of Sampson County.

Try out this tasty Spring Spaghetti Squash Skillet recipe from my favorite blogger, Lillie Eats and Tells. I love her recipes because they always include tons of veggies while aligning with the other aspects of the Med diet such as lean meats, low-fat dairy in smaller amounts, and herbs and spices. Find more of her recipes at lillieeatsandtells.com.

Spring Spaghetti Squash Skillet

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 pinch pepper
  • 1 medium to large spaghetti squash, cooked
  • Zest from one large lemon
  • 8 oz cooked chicken breast, chopped into bite-sized pieces (or use a rotisserie chicken if you are short on time)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup frozen peas
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme, or ½ tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1-2 squeezes of fresh lemon
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Directions:

  1. Cook the spaghetti squash according to your preferred method. Here are my favorites:

Roasted: Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and insides,           spray with olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper, and roast face down on a                   parchment-lined baking sheet at 425° about 45 minutes, or until the skin is               tender when pressed.

Microwave: Poke the whole squash several times with a sharp knife and place in the microwave for five to eight minutes, depending on size. Squeeze to see if it’s    tender yet, and if not, rotate and add additional minutes as needed, until the            skin is tender. Be careful with this method, as the squash can explode in your          microwave and make a mess if it cooks too long and the steam is unable to              escape. If you hear too much squealing, check on it! Use oven mitts to handle          the squash while you slice it in half. Remove the seeded center and pull out the        spaghetti strands.

  1. Remove any tough ends from the asparagus by bending it and allowing it to break at the natural spot. Discard ends. Chop the remaining asparagus (260 g) into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Prepare a heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. Spray with a mist of olive oil and let it get hot for 30 seconds. Add the chopped asparagus and salt and cook for one minute, tossing a few times.
  3. Add strands of cooked spaghetti squash and cook for another two to three minutes to get rid of some moisture. Zest one large lemon right into the pan and combine everything well. Add the chopped chicken and garlic. Cook for one more minute. Add the frozen peas, thyme, parsley, and lemon juice. Toss well to get everything combined. Add any additional salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes if you like a little heat, and top with optional parmesan, feta, or goat cheese.

Nutrition Information:

Calories: 313 kcal

Fat: 3.6 g

Carbs: 28.6 g

Protein: 37.4 g

Fiber: 9.7 g

Written By

Sydney Knowles, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionSydney KnowlesArea Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences Call Sydney Email Sydney N.C. Cooperative Extension, Duplin County Center
Posted on May 3, 2021
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