Eat Like a Roman: The Mediterranean Diet

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While your friends may be pushing Paleo, there’s another “ancient diet” that has been basking in a renaissance of its own, and with good reason. Called the “Gold Standard” of healthy eating, the Mediterranean diet is a style of eating that has been practiced since the dawn of the Roman empire. . A recent flurry of research has brought this style of eating back to the headlines. Earlier this year a groundbreaking study in the New England Journal of Medicine  made the Mediterranean Diet new around the world when it found that subjects following a Mediterranean diet (specifically looking at nuts and olive oil) reduced their risk of heart attack and stroke by as much as 30 percent.  

Score one more for the Mediterranean Diet when a study published in Neurology in April concluded that a Mediterranean style diet rich in olive oil, fish and chicken (as opposed to fatty meats and dairy products typical in the American diet) resulted in a clearer mind – specifically a 19 percent drop in risk for thinking and memory problems. As there aren’t currently well established strategies to successfully treat dementia, delaying it’s onset is key. In this sense, the Mediterranean diet may be a useful tool for aging boomers – “food as medicine” in the truest sense of the word.

Need more good news? It turns out that the “Gold Standard” of eating is also deeply green. Just this month, the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition launched their Double Pyramid tool in the U.S. to show consumers how this age old dietary pattern is not just good for you, but good for the planet (see image above). This infographic (developed using life cycle analysis), shows how key foods of the Mediterranean diet – such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, olive oil and pasta – are also some of the most eco-friendly foods to produce due to smaller carbon, water, and land footprints. (Full disclosure, I have a relationship with Barilla).

Frankly, as an Italophile and a green eating advocate, I couldn’t be happier with all of this much ado about something.

It’s worth noting that these are large, rigorous studies conducted over longer periods of time and published in peer reviewed journals. They reinforce and fine tune what a growing body of evidence suggests is one of the planet’s most delicious paths to a vibrant, long life. While it may not feel “new” enough to some as to merit a second look, in America’s current chaotic eating landscape, to me it feels like a merging of science and sense. Oh, and taste, too.

This is a bright spot in the sea of constant fad diets (the current crop including Paleo and intermittent fasting).  It reminds us that rather than obsessing over a handful of superfoods, there’s immense, synergistic power in an overall healthy eating pattern, day after day. And I love its key components – from fish, olive oil, an abundance of fruits and vegetables, legumes, and yes, even pasta.

So use the end of May (which happens to be Mediterranean Diet Month) and beyond to freshen up your food routine as seasonal produce begins to hit its glorious stride. Yes, you can slim down, while greening up your diet and bringing your family back to the table. If you’re swayed by the lure of ancient diets, remind yourself that this is the stuff that fueled Roman legions. The best part? Wine, in moderation, is included.

Here are my other two fantastic recipes to get you on a path to vibrant eating!

 

Elbows with Roasted Cauliflower - Kate Geagan and BarillaElbows with Roasted Cauliflower, Lentils and Herbs

A protein-packed dish with elbows pasta and lentils!  This is easy to prepare if you have extra cooked lentils on hand. The leftovers make an absolutely delicious and nourishing lunch!

Makes 7 servings

Cook Time: 40 min, Prep Time: 10 min

Ingredients:

1 box Barilla PLUS® Elbows 1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into small approximately 1 inch florets 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1/2 Tsp salt freshly cracked pepper to taste 1.5 cups dried French green lentils

Sauce 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems removed 2 Tbsp chopped red onion 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar 1/4 Tsp salt fresh cracked pepper to taste

Preparation:

PREHEAT oven to 450ºF.  SPREAD cauliflower on a roasting pan DRIZZLE olive oil on top and SEASON with salt and freshly cracked pepper. ROAST in oven for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is cooked through and has a nice brown roasted color. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine 4 cups of cold water and lentils. BRING to a boil, REDUCE heat, and SIMMER for 25 minutes until lentils are tender. DRAIN and set aside. PREPARE elbow pasta according to package directions. DRAIN reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. While the pasta is cooking, in a food processor COMBINE parsley, red onion, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and PULSE until it becomes a smooth green sauce. In a large mixing bowl combine cauliflower, cooked pasta, lentils and green sauce. ADD reserved cooking liquid and gently mix. Taste and adjust seasonings. SERVE warm or at room temperature.

Nutrition Information (per serving): 470 calories, 15 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 12 g fiber, 300 mg sodium

Slow Cooked Ratatouille - Kate Geagan and BarillaSlow Cooked Rotini Spring Ratatouille with Basil and Pine Nuts

This is surprisingly simple! Don’t be fooled by the long ingredient list. The magic of this delicious dish is your slow cooker does all the work! The anchovies are the secret to the rich bodied flavor and added health benefits of omega-3 fats, protein, and vitamin D from a sustainable seafood (you can omit them to make this vegetarian).

Makes 7 servings

Cook Time: 6 hours, Prep Time: 20 min

Ingredients:

1 box Barilla PLUS® Rotini 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut 1 inch dice 1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1 inch dice 1 large red pepper, remove seeds and cut into 1 inch dice 1 large yellow pepper, remove seeds and cut into 1 inch dice 1 medium zucchini, halved and sliced thin 1 medium yellow squash, halved and sliced thin 3 cloves garlic, chopped 2 anchovies packed in oil, chopped 1 tsp Italian seasoning, spice mix 1 tsp kosher salt 1/2 tsp ground pepper 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes and juice 1 15 oz. can quartered artichoke hearts packed in water, drained and rinsed 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted small bunch fresh basil, torn into small pieces or julienned

Preparation:

GENTLY mix diced vegetables in slow cooker and COOK LOW for 6 hours overnight or while at work. TASTE and ADJUST seasoning to taste. PREPARE rotini according to package directions. SERVE by placing 2/3-1 cup rotini in a bowl ADD 1 cup ratatouille on top. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and fresh basil.

Nutrition Information (per serving): 410 calories, 12 g fat, 1.5 g saturated fat, 11 g fiber, 720 mg sodium