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Recently, a good friend of mine told me (with gritted teeth) that he was resolving to eat better every single day in 2018, and only to allow himself the guilty pleasure of a not-so-healthy food once a week.
I could tell that, before he’d even begun, he was anticipating his failure to follow through.
I recommended that instead of trying to switch to a brand new, rigid and unforgiving eating plan in the New Year, a simple change in his mindset could give him a better chance of success…
Think of it as an “eating style,” not a “diet”
The word “diet” conjures up images of deprivation, tasteless foods, and constant cravings for what we can’t have.
But deprivation diets set you up to fail—unless you have willpower like Superman.
Instead of starting a new “diet,” pledge to gradually change your “eating style,” and you’ll have greater success.
What does changing your eating style mean? It could be as simple as eating better. And when done right, eating better can mean eating more — not less — to maintain a healthier weight and avoid heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
By now, you probably know about the Mediterranean diet and its many health benefits.
The research is plentiful. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes, fish, and whole grains, and low in dairy and unhealthy fats, prevents heart disease and cancer, fights inflammation and keeps your mind sharp.
This eating style has helped many long-term residents of the Greek island of Ikaria live well past 100 years of age in good health. The good news: eating like a Greek doesn’t feel like dieting, and it can become a lifestyle you enjoy!
Turning the old food pyramid on its head
The Mediterranean diet is based on the consumption of healthy fats, whole grains, fish and eggs, nuts and seeds, and, most importantly, loads of fresh veggies and fruits. Oh, and wine (in moderation).
Unlike the USDA dietary guidelines that focus on serving size, the key to the Mediterranean style of eating is choosing high-quality, nutrient-dense foods.
And, unlike the traditional “food pyramid,” the Mediterranean diet emphasizes the consumption of fats daily, provided they are healthy fats.
Make gradual changes
Adopting the delicious foods in the Mediterranean diet is the easy part…
But you’ll also need to make some small shifts in your old food choices to re-train your taste buds to crave more healthy foods — because there is so much to choose from!
According to Dr. David Katz, a nutrition expert at the Yale School of Medicine, the key is to cut back in baby steps. For example, if you typically add three sugars to your coffee, try cutting back to two this week, then one next week.
Research shows that, after about a month of cutting back on sugar, your taste buds can get the same intensity of sweet flavor from smaller and smaller amounts of sweet food.
It’s much easier to adopt one new food habit a week, creating changes you can sustain than to try and overhaul your diet overnight. The Mediterranean “diet” is really a term to describe an overall eating pattern, rather than a strict diet.
Here’s a delicious and easy recipe, along with some food guidelines, that will help you get started on the Mediterranean path to healthier eating: Slow-cooker Greek chicken.
It’s not just about food
Consider this: there’s no word for “foodie” in Italian.
Why? Because food is central to daily living. The flavors and preparation that go into even the simplest of dishes are held to a high standard. Low-quality, processed foods are not used in traditional Italian eating.
On a family trip through the Mediterranean, including Italy, Greece, and Spain, Washington Post food columnist Ellie Krieger made some important discoveries.
She found that the culture of cooking and eating in these countries adds just as much to the health of the people as do their food choices.
Here are some tips she offers that you can incorporate into your eating in the coming year:
Make good food a priority. Rather than grab the first wrapped item you put your hands on in the cabinet and call that dinner, think ahead and plan what you will be eating for the week. Make a shopping list around these meal plans.
Eat seasonally. Sticking to seasonal produce automatically gives you a more satisfying eating experience. Fruits and vegetables in season are at their peak of flavor and nutritional value, as opposed to stored and frozen produce.
Savor mealtime. In the Mediterranean, meals are never rushed. Families sit down to enjoy fresh food together. Even if you are eating alone, think about carving out time to focus just on your meal, without distractions like cell phones or work.
Consider how food makes you feel. This goes hand in hand with slowing down and savoring your food.
In Mediterranean culture, attention is given to the order in which food is eaten, based on how it feels to the body. For example, salad is served after the entrée, to aid digestion.
Thinking about the foods you eat, and how they tend to affect your digestion, can give you clues to the right eating patterns for your body.
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- 8 Ways to Follow the Mediterranean Diet for Better Health — EatingWell
- Why the Mediterranean diet works: It’s not just the food — it’s how you eat it — Washington Post
- What’s so healthy about a Mediterranean diet? — The Telegraph
- 22 Ways to Eat Like A Greek Islander — Health.com
- How Your Taste Buds “Get Used To” Less Sugar — Paleo Leap
- Reduced dietary intake of simple sugars alters perceived sweet taste intensity but not perceived pleasantness — The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
- Oral and intestinal sweet and fat tasting: impact of receptor polymorphisms and dietary modulation for metabolic disease — Nutrition Reviews
- 6 Tricks for Training Your Taste Buds to Crave Healthy Foods — Women’s Health
- Why Eating Mediterranean Makes Sense — Clean Eating
- Why We Love Salt (And How to Break the Sodium Addiction) — Greatist.com
- In the kitchen with Kelley: Slow Cooker Greek Chicken — Easy Health Options