Step into spring with a fresh and healthy Mediterranean diet

Published 11:23 am Sunday, May 8, 2016

May is Mediterranean Diet Month.

The Mediterranean diet is characterized by fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dried beans, fresh seafood, herbs and spices, low-fat dairy products and heart-healthy fats such as olive and canola oil. Spring is a great time to focus on this fresh, tasty and healthy way to eat!

The Mediterranean diet is much more than what you might think of when you hear the word “diet” — it is a healthy eating lifestyle that has been shown to reduce risk of numerous diseases. In fact, an analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults showed that people who followed the Mediterranean diet had lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer. They were also at lower risk of getting Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s diseases. In addition, a growing body of evidence suggests the Mediterranean diet may benefit brain health by improving cognitive function, memory and alertness.

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Ready to reap the rewards of this healthful diet? Here are some tips to get you started.

Focus on produce: Include fruits and vegetables at every meal, and enjoy them for quick, healthy snacks as well.

Go whole grain: Choose whole grain breads, cereals and pasta. Try other whole grains too, including brown rice, quinoa and farro.

Bring out the beans: Dried beans and lentils are low in calories, but full of fiber, protein and other important nutrients. Try a black bean chili, or top your salad with chickpeas. Make fish your new meat. Seafood is packed with protein and a top-source of healthy omega-3 fats. Try grilled salmon, pasta topped with shrimp or fish tacos.

Choose healthy fats: Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats from olive oil and canola oil are the added fats of choice in the Mediterranean diet. When cooking, swap butter for olive or canola oil to get the heart-healthy benefits of these healthier fats.

Go nuts: Nuts and seeds are sources of healthy fats, as well as fiber and protein. Since nuts are calorie-dense, limit servings to one to two ounces a day to get their nutritional benefits without breaking the calorie bank.

While all nuts have nutritional benefits, walnuts contain significantly more brain- and heart-healthy omega-3 fats than any other nut. One ounce of walnuts (about 12-14 walnut halves) contains a whopping 2.5 grams of alpha-linolenic acid — making them an excellent food to help you meet or exceed recommended intake levels of 1.1 to 1.6 grams per day.

In celebration of National Walnut Day on May 17, why not pair this recipe for Blue Cheese-Walnut Green Beans with your favorite baked or broiled fish for a delicious dinner the Mediterranean diet way?  Or visit me for a walnut recipe sampling on Thursday, May 19.

Blue Cheese-Walnut Green Beans

Blue Cheese-Walnut Green Beans

Blue Cheese-Walnut Green Beans

Serves 4

(about 1 cup each)

 All you need

•1 pound green beans, trimmed

•1/4 cup water

•2 tsp Hy-Vee Select extra-virgin olive oil

•1/4 tsp salt

•1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

•1/3 cup Hy-Vee Select crumbled blue cheese

•1/3 cup toasted Hy-Vee chopped walnuts

 All you do

1. Bring green beans and water to a boil in a large skillet. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the beans are just tender, 3 minutes.

2. Uncover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the water has evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes more.

4. Add oil, salt and pepper to the pan and cook, stirring, 1 minute more. Transfer the beans to a large bowl and toss with blue cheese until well coated. Sprinkle each serving with walnuts.

Tip: To toast chopped or sliced nuts, stir constantly in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes.

The information is not intended as medical advice. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.

Source: adapted from EatingWell, Inc.