What the Mediterranean Diet Means to You

This article appeared in Natural Awakenings July 2013.
Recent research has shown that diets enriched by generous amounts of either nuts or extra virgin olive oil reduced cardiovascular risk by 30%. The control group, which was assigned to a low fat diet, did not reduce risk at all. In fact, the study ended early because those participants were at high risk for heart disease and it was deemed unethical to keep the control group on a low fat diet. This is consistent with the Women’s Health Initiative, where a low fat diet resulted in no cardiovascular benefit. In this study, individuals on the Mediterranean diet were able to stick with it for five years. This makes sense because a diet rich in good fats is more satisfying. It helps stabilize blood sugar and creates and maintains satiety.

How – and Why – to Increase Healthy Fats in Your Diet

A low fat diet is not the way to be healthy. It is sugars, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods that make us fat and unhealthy, not all fats, and certainly not healthy fats.

Participants consumed a minimum of either four tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (on salads or cooked vegetables, not for cooking) or 1/4 cup of walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds every day. They also ate a minimum of two servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit daily, and consumed beans or legumes at least 3 times a week as well as  fish at least 3 times a week and some poultry and eggs. They drank a little wine with meals. They limited red meat, processed meat, dairy and baked goods. There were no calorie restrictions and no instruction to exercise or increase activity. The main change in nutrition was the increase in healthy fat.
Many people still have “fat phobia”, yet research consistently shows that adding more healthy fat helps people lose and maintain weight. However, not all fats are created equal. You have to use the right ones in the right ways to reap the benefits.

Feeding Your Brain

The brain needs fat, and not just any fat, but saturated fat. Saturated fat often is criticized by those promoting a low fat diet, but in fact can be very healthful. Those Omega 3s you hear so much about? You need saturated fat for your body to make use of them. Sources include coconut oil and butter from pastured cows. Virgin coconut oil has the flavor and fragrance of coconut. Non-virgin is neutral and excellent for cooking. Coconut oil has many unique benefits such as improving heart health, energy metabolism, cognitive function, insulin resistance, weight loss and more.

Ways to Incorporate More Healthy Fats

Use olive oils for salad dressing or to replace butter on vegetables or bread. Don’t cook with olive oil as it has a low smoke point so its benefits are destroyed and it can become a damaging fat when you use it to cook. Instead try organic coconut or cold pressed organic grapeseed oils, which retain their benefits and are safe at high temperatures. Stay away from canola or corn oils because of their inflammatory properties.
Eating half an avocado daily is great for your health as it provides not only healthy fat but plenty of fiber, too. Nuts and seeds are perfect to toss on salads or veggies or to eat as snacks. Since they combine protein, carbs and healthy fats, nuts already are perfectly balanced for you. Raw and organic are best. For portion control, use small re-usable containers or snack bags.  A handful is perfect. Soak them overnight for better assimilation.  You can incorporate more healthful nuts into your diet by looking for recipes that use nut flours for cooking and baking, instead of grain flours. For a simple healthy and yummy dessert, halve a date, remove the pit, fill with almond butter and enjoy.

Fran Sussman is a holistic health practitioner based in Orange County since 1993. She provides natural solutions for healthy weight loss, food sensitivities and allergies, ADHD, Lyme disease and more. For more information, visit FranSussman.com or call 496-0385.

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