Perryman Nutrition Column: Weighing in with the Mediterranean Diet

Note to Editors: The following column was written by Shirley Perryman, a nutrition expert and Extension specialist in Colorado State University’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. The department is part of the College of Applied Human Sciences.

Holiday decorations are barely put away before the avalanche of ads bombard us: weight loss products, work out equipment, tech gadgets to help count calories fat grams and carbs, and those infamous infomercials. From the attention marketers pay to weight loss, it appears that getting thin seems to be everyone’s goal, and everyone needs a gimmick to be successful. However, about a third of those who make a resolution to lose weight abandon the idea before the end of January.

Instead of worrying about getting thin and feeling guilty for not being able to stay with a particular program or gadget, consider adopting lifestyle changes that are guaranteed to improve your health.  Even if you don’t lose a pound, your heart will thank you if you acquaint yourself with the Mediterranean lifestyle.  

There are endless exercise and diet plans from which to choose. Many are complicated. Others are time intensive and expensive. One easy to follow plan, which also has been backed by studies to show improved health is the Mediterranean style of eating.  

The Mediterranean diet is evidence-based. It has been shown over the years to lower LDL – the bad — cholesterol. Lowering LDL reduces heart disease risk and controls blood sugar, minimizing the odds of developing type 2 diabetes. Other studies have shown those following a Mediterranean diet are less likely to die from cancer or develop Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease. Other research associates Mediterranean-style eating with reduced risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and recurrence of colon cancer. Many with rheumatoid arthritis have shown improvement. Weight loss has been a bonus following these good health outcomes.   

In a nutshell, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes veggies, fruits, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Primary animal protein recommendations are fish and poultry. and olive oil is the main fat source. Sound easy?  It is. Couple it with regular physical exercise and you’ll notice improvements.

The first difference you’ll note is how colorful your plate is.  Half the plate is filled with vegetables. Vegetables are low in fat and calories and naturally high in fiber and loaded with other healthy nutrients. The other half is divided into whole grains and fish, poultry or other protein-rich foods such as beans. Here are the details:

– Try preparing vegetables in a new way and experiment with recipes. Try tossing veggies in olive oil and roasting them in the oven. Pre-packaged veggies or frozen veggies can reduce the time you’ll need to prepare veggies as part of your meal.

– Fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruits all provide good nutrients. Fruits, like vegetables, are also high in fiber, low in calories and filled with antioxidants. Whole fruits pack the benefit of fiber compared to juices. The key is to have fresh or dried fruit available to eat-especially for snacks in place of typical processed snack foods.

– Go for the whole grains. Read the label to be sure you’re choosing a 100 percent whole grain pasta, rice, oatmeal or bread.  Amaranth and quinoa have recently appeared on grocery shelves in breads and crackers; the two are gluten-free as are buckwheat and wild rice.

– Monounsaturated fat is the signature of the Mediterranean diet. Some may question the advisability of including 30 to 40 percent of a day’s calories from fat, but it’s the kind of fat that matters. Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, canola oil and nuts.  Nuts are high in fat so they should be limited, but they’re an easy snack to keep on hand and add a nice crunch to salads. Omega-3 fat found in fatty fish like salmon is heart healthy.  Avoid trans fat in commercially baked products and limit your saturated fat intake from whole dairy products, butter and meat. Choose poultry and fish most often and small portions of lean meat occasionally.

– Beans and legumes are low fat protein sources and a good source of fiber. When using canned beans, which are a great time saver, rinse them with water to remove excess sodium. Beans can be added to soups, sprinkled on salads and stirred into pasta dishes.  

– Herbs and spices are the newest addition to the Mediterranean diet. Not only can they add new flavor sensations, they also can reduce the amount of sodium you’d typically consume.

– Wine can be a part of the Mediterranean diet, but drink it in moderation — and it’s not recommended for pregnant women. Otherwise, research has found that one glass a day for women and two for men may reduce disease risk because it contains anti-inflammatory substances.

For more information about the Mediterranean diet go to