If you ever wanted to try the Mediterranean Diet, this may be your time to shine. May is Mediterranean Diet Month, celebrating a diet that with emphasizes fruits and vegetables, nuts, olive oil and whole grains with some fish and meat. California Olive Ranch has teamed up with “The Plant-Powered Dietitian” Sharon Palmer, RD, to develop just how you can use olive oil best in this super healthy way of life. Research has shown remarkable health benefits linked to the Mediterranean style of eating, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and lower total mortality rates. Pretty cool, eh?
Palmer is a very accomplished and award-winning food writer, registered dietitian, and nutrition expert who knows the Mediterranean diet well. She is the author of The Plant-Powered Diet: The Lifelong Eating Plan for Achieving Optimal Health Beginning Today and Plant-Powered for Life: Eat Your Way to Lasting Health with 52 Simple Steps & 125 Delicious Recipes. She is also the editor of the acclaimed health newsletter Environmental Nutrition, nutrition editor for Today’s Dietitian, and she writes for her popular Plant-Powered Blog.
Palmer was nice enough to take some time to answer some questions about the Mediterranean Diet. Check out what she has to say below!
What do you think is the best way to celebrate Mediterranean Diet Month?
I think the best way to celebrate Mediterranean Diet Month is to try some of the key characteristics of the Mediterranean diet in your own environment and location: Enjoy more plant-based meals, more seasonal fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts like almonds, and seeds in your dishes. And rely on extra virgin olive oil, such as California Olive Ranch, as your number one oil for a light, healthy, delicious culinary style. For extra credit, include some classic Mediterranean dishes in your meal planning, such as tabouleh, hummus, tagine, pasta, and bean dishes.
In your experience, what do you think are the benefits of pursuing a Mediterranean Diet?
The benefits are very well established—the Mediterranean diet is one of the most widely studied diets on the planet. It’s been studied for 60 years now, and this eating pattern has been linked with numerous benefits, including lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s disease. I think one of the main benefits of this diet is that it’s so delicious—it’s not really a “diet” per se; it’s a way of life that is totally sustainable—it’s not a hardship being on this diet! The use of healthy fats, such as avocados, nuts, seeds, and extra virgin olive oil, is one of the main reasons why it’s healthy and delicious!
What are some of the best ways someone can get started pursuing a Mediterranean Diet in their everyday life?
I think one of the best ways is to make swaps in your daily lifestyle. For example, in the Mediterranean they enjoy loads of seasonal vegetables that grow in the region. So look around you and see what is in season in your area and pile up on those vegetables. This diet also features many meals focused on beans and whole grains—this is something you can do in your own diet by relying upon your favorite dishes such as chili with cornbread or red beans and rice. Instead of highly processed packaged foods, most foods in the Mediterranean diet are fresh and whole—meaning that they are based on real food ingredients—so no packaged snacks, cookies, and chips! Dessert is often a simple piece of seasonal fruit. And finally, the number one healthy fat in the kitchen is extra virgin olive oil—it is used for everything, breads, baking, sautéing, dressings on salads, and sauces for pasta.
How would you suggest people use EVOO in desserts as a healthy fat?
I love to use EVOO in baking! This is something I learned on various trips to the Mediterranean. EVOO actually suits many baked desserts, such as cobblers, pies, cakes, sweet breads, and cookies remarkably well! The earthy, herbal flavor of EVOO brings an extra quality to these treats. Just give it a try and see what you think. You can substitute it for any liquid oil in a recipe, and you can even experiment with replacing butter with olive oil in many recipes.
What are some of your favorite Mediterranean recipes?
I particularly love rustic hearty bean dishes from Greece—simple cooked beans with tomatoes, herbs, and EVOO. I also love the way vegetables are prepared in the Mediterranean—sautéed with a bit of good EVOO and perhaps lemon and garlic. So delicious! I love the vegetable dishes, too, such as ratatouille from France or potato-tomato salads from Sicily. And I can’t live without a good, classic hummus—you’ll find it in my fridge every day. It’s so easy to make it yourself and it’s much more flavorful than store-bought varieties, overall—just blend chickpeas with lemon, garlic, tahini and EVOO. The pasta dishes of Italy along the Mediterranean region—simple dishes with greens, beans, herbs and olive oil are divine. The thing that I love about Mediterranean food is that it was never meant to be a fussy, overcomplicated fare. This food was the food of the common folk—it was based upon the ingredients that grew in the region, and the principals were about making something good out of what was around people. Thus, the foods are so pure and nourishing.
Anything else you’d like to include?
Eating a Mediterranean diet might seem foreign if you live in certain parts of the U.S., but the ideals of the diet are achievable anywhere. The simple idea of eating more whole, seasonal plant foods in combination with healthy fats, such as avocados, almonds, and EVOO is something we can all do. And it’s even more achievable now that we are producing excellent EVOO in California, such as California Olive Ranch.
Images courtesy of Sharon Palmer and California Olive Ranch.