Hummus lovers rejoice: Mediterranean diet ranked 2019’s best overall diet plan

Local registered dieticians weigh in

The Mediterranean diet suggests eating fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains in exchange for healthier blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Maria Ireta Gordon/Argosy

This diet plan incorporates foods native to the Mediterranean region of Europe, which is mainly plant-based and focuses on fresh food.

Jillian Reid, a registered dietitian, works to provide group and individual nutrition services at the Superstores in both Amherst, N.S., and Riverview, N.B. Reid offered a simple list of foods that can be categorized under the Mediterranean diet. “The Mediterranean diet emphasizes foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, beans and healthy monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts and seeds,” she said. “Foods such as sweets and red meats are limited.”

In an analysis of 41 eating plans, US News and World Report has ranked the Mediterranean diet as the best diet for diabetes, healthy eating and heart health. It has also been lauded as the easiest to follow and the best plant-based diet, making it the best overall diet of 2019.

According to Healthline, numerous studies examining the benefits of the Mediterranean diet have demonstrated its effect in promoting weight loss, preventing heart attacks and type 2 diabetes, and reducing the risk of premature death.

Reid explained why the Mediterranean diet is a good option for an overall improved health. “The foods included in the Mediterranean diet are less processed, low in sodium and saturated fats, and rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fibre and healthy fats.” Reid said, “The diet may result in better blood pressure [and] cholesterol levels, which are both important to heart health, and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.”

Reid commented on the benefit of eating whole grains through the Mediterranean diet instead of whole wheat. “[Whole grains] are higher in fibre than white processed grains,” she said. “When grains are processed, they remove the nutritious parts of the grain, leaving behind mostly just the shell. Whole grains take longer to digest, which is important for satiety purposes, but also for sugars, especially if you have diabetes.”

An article in the Globe and Mail by Leslie Beck, entitled Why You Should Follow the Mediterranean ‘Diet’ – And How to Do It, offers tips for following this eating guide. “If you eat red meat … treat it as a condiment rather than the main attraction of a meal,” Beck wrote. “Batch cook whole grains. Barley, brown rice, bulgur, whole-wheat couscous and farro add fibre, protein, B vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals to the Mediterranean diet.”

Beck’s article provided meal ideas for individuals who choose to follow the Mediterranean diet, including whole-grain pasta with tuna, lentil salad and condiment substitutes like hummus, tahini or marinara.

Colin Sifton, the executive chef at Mount Allison, prepares meals featuring food from the Mediterranean at Jennings Meal Hall as part of the Five Different Cultures of Food on Fridays. Sifton explained that the Mediterranean diet is classified based on location, instead of by their nutritional group. “Like most regions of the world, our diets and palette choices are based on what foods were available, that grow in our area,” Sifton said. “For Mediterranean palettes, we see a lot of tomato, garlic, olives, nuts and legumes. Many fresh herbs like basil, oregano and rosemary. Of course, fish is a common staple because of the [Mediterranean] sea.”

Sifton emphasized the importance of understanding that the Mediterranean diet has cultural value, and should not merely be viewed as a method for health or weight loss.

“To get items like fresh vegetables and fruit all year round [used to be] a luxury, not an expectation. Recipes and seeds travelled with immigrants, because that was what they knew. This introduced new foods to new cultures,” Sifton said. “Food is culture!”

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