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Eat more fruit and vegetables, less meat and balance your meals

By Deirdre Parker Smith

deirdre.smith@salisburypost.com

U.S. News tried 41 popular diets and determined that the best diet plan is the Mediterranean diet.

It has recently been cited in studies for the diet’s ability to improve heart health and prevent osteoporosis and prevent diabetes.

Another study found that this style of eating can keep your brain healthy as you age.

What’s the magic secret?

The Mediterranean diet is largely plant-based, meaning loads of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Fish is also a big part of the diet, as well as olive oil. Just forget butter.

The study found that the best diets cut out processed foods and hone in on vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, fruits, nuts and seeds.

According to the U.S. News report, Whole30 and keto diets rank low on the scale of diets. Both are quite restrictive, making them hard to follow over time. Neither has much science to back up the plan.

The Mediterranean diet allows for occasional treats, like wine with dinner, and it does not eliminate entire food groups.

CNN also reported that eating in the Mediterranean style is the best diet for healthy eating, diabetes and is the best plant-based diet.

It’s also been shown that people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean sea live long and suffer less than Americans from cancer and cardiovascular illness.

The Mediterranean diet is not a diet as some may think of it. It’s not a list of restricted foods and counting. It is a way of eating. Of course, what the French eat is different from what Italians eat, or Greeks, but their way of eating is based on the same principles.

Greek-Style Vegetarian Lasagna

1 pound whole wheat or whole grain lasagna noodles

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 (10 oz.) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed, excess liquid squeezed out

2 medium zucchini, sliced

1 tomato, chopped

1 tsp. ground oregano

1 (16 oz.) jar prepared marinara sauce

1/2 cup kalamata olives

1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese 

1 egg, beaten

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook lasagna noodles according to package directions, removing from water when they are still a little chewy in the middle. Set aside to drain.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat and add onion. Sauté 3 minutes and add garlic and oregano, satuéeing 2 minutes more. Add zucchini and sauté until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the spinach and jar of tomato sauce, and cook for about 1 more minute. Turn off heat, cover and set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the egg, ricotta and feta cheese and a generous amount of black pepper.

Assemble lasagna: In a 13-by-9-inch baking pan, spoon a little of the sauce mixture into the bottom. Place a layer of the cooked lasagna noodles across this sauce. Ladle a generous helping of the sauce and veggie mixture over this, and spread half of the feta-ricotta mixture over the sauce. Sprinkle one-quarter cup of the olives over this. Repeat layering two more times, finishing with cheese. Add more oregano and pepper to top of lasagna, if desired.

Cover pan with foil and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Uncover and cook another 15-20 minutes, until lasagna is bubbling and cheese is browned on top. Allow lasagna to rest for 20 minutes or so before serving.

Mediterranean Chard Salad

4 cups Swiss chard, shredded

1 red pepper, thinly sliced

4 radishes, sliced (or carrots or beets)

1/2 English cucumber, sliced

6 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

1 avocado, sliced

1/4 cup kalamata olives, optional

1 cup chickpeas (cooked)

1 cup Italian (flat leaf) parsley, chopped

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted (or slivered almonds)

Lemony Dressing

2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. lemon zest

1 tsp. honey

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Crumbled goat or feta cheese, optional

Place all the salad ingredients (minus dressing and seeds) in a large bowl or on a platter. In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together. Dress the salad and toss. You may not need all the dressing.

Sprinkle with seeds or nuts and cheese, if using and serve.

Both the preceding recipes are from Oldwayspt.org, which also provided the chart. The site has many, many recipes.

Quinoa, White Bean and Kale Soup

3/4 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed

1 (32 oz.) container chicken broth

1 (14.5 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes with juices

2 (15.5 oz.) cans cannellini beans

3 tsp. minced garlic

1/2 cup onion, chopped

2 tsp. Italian seasoning

1/4 tsp. dried rosemary

1/4 tsp. thyme

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. dried basil

2 bay leaves

Zest of 1 lemon, reserving juice

3 cups chopped kale

Salt and pepper to taste

Freshly grated Parmesan

Rinse the quinoa and add to slow cooker with 2 cups broth. Add the tomatoes and one can cannellini beans. You may drain them, or leave them undrained.

Add garlic, onion, seasonings, zest and salt and pepper.

In a blender or food processor, combine 2 cups broth with the second can of cannellini beans. Blend until smooth. Add to slow cooker. Stir, cover and clook on high for 3-4 hours, or low 6-8 hours.

Remove stems from kale, wash and chop the leaves.

About 15 minutes before ready to serve, stir in the kale and the juice of half the lemon you used for zesting. Stir and cover to finish cooking.

Serve each bowl with a tablespoon or so freshly grated parmesan.

This can also be made on the stovetop. Add the kale once the broth mixed with beans has warmed through. Cook until kale becomes tender.

Dried Fruit Compote with Green Tea & Lemon

3 green tea bags

3 1/4 cup boiling water

2 Tbsp. sugar or sweetener of choice

2 tsp. grated lemon zest

3 cups mixed dried fruit, apples, apricots, pears, figs, raisins

Steep tea bags in boiling water for 3-5 minutes. Remove tea bags and add sugar or sweetener and lemon zest. Cut any large, dried fruit into halves or quarters. Place the fruit in a 4-quart slow cooker. Cover and cook until the fruit is plump and tender and the liquid is syrupy, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours on high or 3 1/2 hours to 4 hours on low. Transfer to a bowl and cool slightly. Serve or cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Top with low or non-fat plain Greek yogurt, a few pistachios or dried cranberries.

Can be baked in the oven in a casserole dish at 350 for about 1 hour. Can also be cooked in a pot on the stovetop, 30-45 minutes.

This can be used as a dessert. Some reviewers say it is too sweet. The sugar helps to make the syrup, but can be replaced with agave, honey or maple syrup to taste. It could also be used as a topping for oatmeal or whole grain toast.

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