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Med Month — enjoy the Mediterranean food plan

Happy #MedMonth! May has been declared Med Month for those of you that didn’t already know.

The Med Way, as we refer to it in Cooperative Extension, is the Mediterranean-style eating plan that has been proven to promote health and decrease the risk for many common chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

The Mediterranean diet incorporates the basics of healthy eating — plus a splash of flavorful olive oil and perhaps a glass of red wine — among other components characterizing the traditional cooking style of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

Eating the Mediterranean way is not only healthy, but it is also delicious and satisfying. Foods that were once thought of as too high in fat or unhealthy, including nuts, olive oil, olives and whole grains can become a part of your daily diet.

Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, and it has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol that’s more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.  In fact, a meta-analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality as well as overall mortality.

The Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced incidence of chronic diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It has also been proven that women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Eating primarily plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil.
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month.
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week.
  • Enjoying meals with family and friends.
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional).
  • Getting plenty of exercise.

Because the Mediterranean diet is so delicious and healthy, many people who switch to this style of eating say they’ll never eat any other way. Here are some specific steps to get you started:

  • Eat your fruits and vegetables — and switch to whole grains. An abundance and variety of plant foods should make up the majority of your meals. Strive for seven to 10 servings a day of fruits and veggies. Switch to whole-grain bread, crackers, rice, pasta and cereal.
  • Go nuts. Keep almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts on hand for a quick snack. Choose natural peanut butter rather than the kind with hydrogenated fat added.
  • Pass on the butter. Try olive or canola oil as a healthy replacement for butter and/or margarine.  Use it in cooking, dip bread in flavored olive oil or lightly spread it on whole-grain bread for a tasty alternative to butter.
  • Spice it up. Herbs and spices make food tasty and are also rich in health-promoting substances. Season your meals with herbs and spices rather than salt.
  • Go fish. Eat fish once or twice a week. Fresh or water-packed tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, and herring are healthy choices. Grilled fish tastes good and requires little cleanup. Avoid fried fish unless it’s sautéed in a small amount of olive oil.
  • Rein in the red meat. Substitute fish and poultry for red meat. When eaten, make sure it’s lean and keep portions small. Also avoid sausage, bacon and other high-fat meats.
  • Choose low-fat dairy. Limit higher fat dairy products such as whole or 2% milk, cheese and ice cream. Switch to skim milk, fat-free yogurt and low-fat cheese.
  • Raise a glass to healthy eating. If it’s OK with your doctor, have a glass of wine with dinner. If you don’t drink alcohol, you don’t need to start. Drinking purple grape juice may be an alternative to wine.

Tuna Burger

2 (5-ounce) cans of tuna packed in water or olive oil, drained and flaked
1 cup whole-grain bread crumbs, divided
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup minced celery
1/4 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced red bell pepper (option: roast or sauté pepper first for added flavor)
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 Tbsp. olive oil
6 whole-grain hamburger buns or English muffins, toasted
6 leaves of lettuce
1 tomato, sliced
Mustard (optional)

In a medium bowl combine tuna, ½ cup bread crumbs, egg, celery, onion, bell pepper and Italian seasoning. Break up any large pieces of tuna until the mixture is uniform and holds together.
Form six patties with tuna mixture. Coat each side with remaining 1/2 cup bread crumbs.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook each patty until heated through and golden brown (approximately 5-7 minutes on each side).
Serve patties on whole-grain hamburger bun or English muffin. Garnish with lettuce, tomato, and mustard (optional).
Serving Size: 1 burger; vegetables: 1/4 cup; calories: 242; carbohydrates: 32 grams; fiber: 3 grams; protein: 14 grams; fat: 7 grams; sodium: 430 mg.

Banana Nut Med Muffins

2 overripe bananas
1 1/2 cup chopped apples
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds)
2 eggs
1 cup old fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
1 tsp. cinnamon (you can use Chinese 5 spice for a different flavor)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Line 12 muffin tins with muffin papers, spray with non-stick cooking spray.
Mash bananas with a fork in a medium bowl.
Add apples, nuts and eggs to the bananas, mix well.
In another bowl, mix dry ingredients.
Add the banana mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
Spoon the muffin mixture into muffin cups.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until the internal temperature of the muffin is 165 degrees.
Place on a wire rack for cooling.
Once cool, store in the refrigerator for 4-7 days.
Nutrition Information per Serving: Serving size: 1 muffin; fruits: 1/4 cup; calories: 130; carbohydrates: 13 grams; fiber: 2 grams; protein: 4 grams; fat: 8 grams; sodium: 294 mg.

Lunch Salad
Choose 2 cups whole grain:

Brown rice

Choose 1 cup beans:

Garbanzo beans
Pinto beans
Black eyed peas
White beans

Choose 3 cups of chopped vegetables (choose a combination or just one):

Summer squash
Green peppers
Napa cabbage

Choose a protein:

6 ounces of grilled chicken
1 (5 ounce) can of tuna
1 cup of beans (additional)
3 ounces of nuts (about 1/2 cup of almonds or 2/3 cup of peanuts)

6 Tbsp. olive oil
6 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Mix your selections with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (or vinegar of your choice).
Place in 6 individual containers. You are ready for a week (almost) of lunches.
Nutrition information per serving: (Based on quinoa, garbanzo beans, carrots, celery, broccoli and chicken)

Serving Size: 1 1/4 cups; vegetables: 3/4 cup; calories: 225; carbohydrates: 19 grams; fiber: 4 grams; protein: 4 grams; fat: 15 grams; sodium: 76 mg

Additional resources for eating the Med way, as well as Med recipes can be found at medinsteadofmeds.com.  For information on the Med instead of Meds way of eating, contact Toi N. Degree, Family & Consumer Education Agent with North Carolina State University & North Carolina Cooperative Extension, 704-216-8970 or by email toi_degree@ncsu.edu.

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