In a recent article, I spoke a little about my health and how it was forcing me to make changes. We often don’t realize the impact that even small changes to our health can affect us. Moderate exercise for 150 minutes a week can have a drastic impact on our health. Once you start coupling that with dietary changes, those results can only grow.
Being pre-diabetic and having high blood pressure has definitely brought changes to the forefront of my mind. For many reasons, I am using a Mediterranean diet. You may be asking yourself, “what exactly is the Mediterranean Diet?” Well, grab a chair, a notebook, and a drink, we are about to discuss it.
Disclaimer: Let me first impress how important it is to check with your doctor before beginning any dietary changes. You need to make sure there is no impact on any medications you may be taking or if you can make these changes.
Why I needed to change
Being prediabetic, one of the things I have to watch is sugar. Many think that reducing the amount of sugar you use is enough. Unless you are diabetic, you may not know that eating carbohydrates are also bad for blood sugar.
The other factor that I had to consider was sodium and its effect on my blood pressure. At the same time, I have to consider my fat intake and also the kinds of foods that I eat. Saturated and trans-fats are bad for high blood pressure. Instead, I should be looking for monounsaturated fats, like olive oil. Cutting back on red meat while eating seafood, fish, and lean poultry two to three times a week is better.
On top of that, watching my total amount of calories is something that to consider, as well. If you are like me, calorie counting and label watching can be a lot. So this is where a diet change can make it easier. Especially the Mediterranean diet.
Following regimens has always been hard for me. I have tried dieting in the past to lose weight, but all that you have to do to keep track of things gets a bit much and causes frustrations when there are setbacks. With the new change to my diet, I don’t focus on the overall numbers, instead, I’m making conscious efforts to eat better.
I also refuse to beat myself up for screwing up on a diet, anymore. Let’s face it, we all make mistakes. There are times where stress gets the better of us and you want some good ole fashioned comfort food. Indulging in moderation is perfectly acceptable. Then get back to how you should be eating.
Changing your mindset works wonders. Growing up, I was the kid that didn’t mind eating vegetables. Sure, there were some I didn’t like, mostly because of how they were cooked, when I was young. As I got older and learned better ways of cooking, I found that almost every vegetable can be amazing. How is this implied to changing your mindset, you ask? Simple, you already eat vegetables and don’t put much thought into it. That makes it a bit easier to add more to your meals. From there you can find other ways to incorporate them or add flavor to them, without adding a lot of salt.
What is a Mediterranean diet
Let me clarify that this is not so much a diet as it is an eating style. In fact, it is one based on the eating habits of countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. So, looking at that, you can see that there are a broad range of countries that surround the sea and will probably have vastly different diets, in comparison
So what does it include, with it being so diverse? You want to start with plenty of fruits and vegetables, bread, grains, potatoes, beans, nuts, and seeds, For your primary fat intake, extra virgin olive oil and you also want to include dairy products, eggs, fish, and poultry in moderate amounts
With the added complexity of pre-diabetic, fruits do need to be watched, as well as bread and potatoes. Remember that starch is a carbohydrate, which produces sugars that our body turns into glucose.
Red meat can be consumed, but in small amounts, once a week or so at most. The other big thing is to make sure you aren’t getting overly processed foods in your meals. This means you will need to cut out fast food or limit it a lot.
What has made this a little bit easier is that for the last year or so I had already switched to a heavily vegetarian diet due to how my boyfriend eats.
Foods of the Mediterranean diet
What not to eat
It is better to start with what you should avoid on this lifestyle change. Remember that this really is about a lifestyle change. Diets are bad words and most times you will end up breaking a diet because of the restrictions that are placed on you. When you do a lifestyle change, you are giving room for adaptations based on what works or does not work for you.
The bad things that everyone should avoid are processed foods. Here is where a shift in thinking needs to occur. If you are standing on a food aisle and you see the words “low fat” or “diet,” chances are these are overly processed food and really should be avoided. Studies are showing that diet pop is far worse for you than regular. When in doubt, always check the label. There you will find sodium content, fat content, and all of the additives they are using to make this “low fat.” If you cannot pronounce or know what is on the list, put it back on the shelf. Soda, candy, table sugar, are all things that should be avoided. White bread, rice, and pasta with refined wheat are bad. Trans fats in margarine should be avoided.
Become a food label detective. When you see things like carbohydrates, you have to learn that number includes fiber in the total. You need a lot of fiber for your body for many reasons. If your label shows carbohydrates as 10g and fiber is at 5g, then you have 5 grams of fiber. Also, look at the sugar numbers. Sugars fall under carbohydrates but there are also added sugars, If you have 10g of carbs, 5g of fiber, and 3g of sugars, then your total sugars are 8g. Try to make sure that your fiber is closer to the sugar numbers as much as possible. This will help your body digest sugars better.
Stay away from salts as much as possible. Instead of using salt for flavorings, opt for spices, It will bring better flavor and offer a more robust experience in cooking and eating.
What you should eat
This is, by far, my more favorite section. Remember this is a lifestyle change, you may not like everything that is on any Mediterranean diet list and that is okay. You can adapt it to things you may like better. Part of what you will learn is also reducing the caloric intake of what you are eating. Please remember, as my boyfriend always tells me, don’t go around hungry. If you are reducing calories per meal, you will need snacks to offset that. Just go for healthier snacks or be strict about serving sizes.
There are five essential food types that are part of this lifestyle.
- Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil- this can be used to cook with, part of dressings, to roast vegetables, toss with pasta, marinate seafood and meats or simply as a dip or added to a dip
- Seafood – This is essential to Mediterranean lifestyles. You should do seafood or fish at least two times a week. It is a leaner meat which means less fat to build up in your system. Tuna, salmon, sardines, and other oily fish are perfect for this. Don’t forget that you can add shrimp, mussels, scallops, and other seafood.
- Legumes – Think beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, and others. They are an amazing source of protein and a great addition to almost any salad, soup, or meal. They also have great fiber contents. Surprisingly enough, they are just as filling as a meat-based dish
- Nuts and seeds – These can be eaten daily or semi-daily. Perfect for snacking or to incorporate into your meal. This protein-rich food source has a much lower chance of causing death from heart disease than meat. Definitely a plus for adding. For an added punch to a salad, roast some pine nuts in a pan and toss in your favorite salad
- Leafy green – While vegetables are important to any meal plan but have an amazing benefit of helping the brain function. Many of them add important minerals like potassium, which is essential to proper heart function. They are also an even better way of adding color and texture to a meal. Lettuce, kale, spinach, and arugula. Don’t forget the leafy herbs like cilantro and parsley.
If you look at what you eat on a daily or weekly basis, you might be surprised at the similarities. Also remember that a Mediterranean lifestyle is more than just food, it was an experience. Share your meals with friends and families and just enjoy life. Also, add a bit more physical activity to your week. Get out with friends and walk around before or after your meal. Get a group of friends together to enjoy time with. We should get about 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, this will help with the changes you are making to your meals.
A recipe for dietary changes for better health
I have truly enjoyed learning new recipes to try with this lifestyle change. I have loved cooking since I was a kid, but learning new ways to cook has always been a fascination. Plus, it makes you feel just a little bit better when you are eating a healthy meal that you made.
For inspiration, I have added one of my new favorite recipes below. It is for a lentil soup. To be completely honest, I have never tried lentils until last year. The name, for some reason, always seemed like a put-off to me. Just not appetizing. Boy, was I wrong? This recipe can be spiced up or down to your liking. Many of the ingredients can be tailored to your preference, as well.
An Amazing Lentil Soup
Prep Time: 15 mins – Cook Time: 30 mins – Total Time: 45 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Yield: 5 cups
Calories: 421kcal, Carbs: 58g, Protein: 17g, Fat: 15g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Potassium: 951mg, Fiber: 19g, Sugars: 13g, Vitamin: 11064iu, Vitamin C: 78mg, Calcium: 209mg, Iron: 7mg
*if doing for meal prep, double the recipe for a week’s worth*
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, small diced
2 carrots, small diced
2 celery stalks, small diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Crushed redpepper to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
28 ounces fresh diced tomatoes (Roma/Plum tomatoes)
6 cups vegetable broth or water
1 cup green or brown lentils
3 leaves kale, stemmed and sliced
1 lemon, juiced
- Heat the oil in a large pot until it shimmers. Add the onion, celery, and carrot and stir for 5 minutes, or until the onion becomes translucent.
- Add the tomato paste, minced garlic, dried spices, salt and pepper. Stir and heat for 2 minutes.
- Add the diced tomatoes, broth, and lentils and stir together. Bring that to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, partially cover with a lid, and simmer for 25-30 minutes.
- Stir in the kale and lemon juice, and simmer for an additional minute or two to soften the kale. Taste the soup, and add any additional lemon juice, salt, or pepper before serving.
You can keep the soup chunky, or use an immersion blender to create a more creamy texture, by spot blending for just a few seconds.
Because vegetable broth usually comes in 32-ounce containers (4 cups), I add 4 cups of broth and 2 cups of water to this recipe. Just so I don’t have a half-used container of broth.
You can substitute 3 teaspoons of Italian seasoning for oregano, basil, and thyme.
As the soup sits, the lentils may soak up some of the liquid, thickening up the soup. You can always add more broth or water to thin it out.