3 recipes to observe National Mediterranean Diet Month with in May

Mediterranean cuisine like pasta, seafood, chickpeas, olives and olive oil, fresh vegetables, wine and much more have become a staple in the American diet. This is not just because immigrant families have brought over their traditions and the consistent popularity of eateries that offer such food, but also because the Mediterranean diet is one of the most healthy and beneficial lifestyle choices people can integrate into their daily life.

May is Mediterranean Diet Month. Incorporating foods and ingredients from the coastal region — which encompasses not just Italy, southern France and Greece, but also Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Algeria and Croatia — can make a positive difference in diet and health. While indulgence and luxury are often associated with the Mediterranean area and its cuisine, reality is very often the opposite, as following this diet may help you live longer.

Mediterranean region full of 'Blue Zones'

One of the reasons why the Mediterranean diet is associated with longevity and health is because the region is home to a number of "blue zones." Wondering just what a blue zone is? According to NPR, these are locations across the globe that have been observed to exhibit much lower rates of obesity, cancer and heart disease, as well as higher rates of centenarians (those who reach 100 or more years of age). While researchers like Dan Buettner, a National Geographic explorer who wrote a book about blue zones and who spoke to NPR, attribute these conditions to myriad factors — including strong family and social support systems, less stress and traditions that encourage disciplined self-gratification — diet is among the most critical.

Of the five blue zones spotlighted in NPR, two were from the Mediterranean region. According to Buettner, some of the guidelines blue zones stick to include:

  • Not eating after feeling 80 percent full, to avoid weight gain.
  • Eating the day's smallest meal in the late afternoon and evening (as opposed to the morning, which is the norm in many cultures).
  • Eating plenty of fresh plants and beans, and rarely eating large portions of meat (an average blue zone resident consumes a 3- to 4-ounce portion just five times monthly).
  • Drinking alcohol moderately - like a glass of wine each night.

Benefits of the Mediterranean diet

While the world itself is full of blue zones, the Mediterranean diet has been shown to have a particular positive effect on diet and well-being. Oldways, an advocate organization for slow food and healthy diets, said that the Mediterranean diet is linked to:

  • 30 percent lower risk of frailty in seniors.
  • 30 percent lower risk of heart disease.
  • Decreased risk of stroke in high-risk patients.

The Mayo Clinic cited further evidence that found 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated reduced cardiovascular mortality and overall mortality after following the Mediterranean diet. Mayo Clinic also said following the diet decreased levels of oxidized low-density lipoprotein cholesterol — also known as LDL, the "bad" type of cholesterol that builds up as plaque in arteries — as well as reduced incidence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

Olive oil is a staple in the Mediterranean diet.

3 Mediterranean diet recipes tips

Understanding how the Mediterranean diet can help promote better lifestyles and physical health lies in looking at its basic food groups and techniques. For instance, according to Mayo Clinic, instead of using salt as seasoning and butter for frying, Mediterraneans use herbs and spices to flavor, and olive oil a healthy fat, respectively. Limiting red meat intake and instead focusing on plant-based foods and fish or poultry are also hallmarks. 

Here are three recipes to try and see if the Mediterranean diet can help you this May:

  • Greens salad with chickpeas: Combine a mix of greens, like lettuce, spinach and cucumber, with diced tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese and some pitted olives. Add some spiced chickpeas to the salad and dress it all with a modest drizzling of olive oil, or a combination of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add black pepper and oregano to taste. Enjoy this at any hour of the day, either as part of a meal or on its own.
  • Mediterranean lasagna: This recipe is a tweak on a classic Italian pasta-based lasagna that uses eggplant and/or portobello mushrooms instead of noodles. Alternate layers of eggplant/mushroom, mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. Bake like you would any lasagna and add fresh herbs to season. 
  • Grilled lemon fish or shrimp: Seafood is abundant in the Mediterranean, and the region's diet reflects that. Try simply grilling cod or shrimp and adding fresh lemon and herbs, a no-frills classic. You can get adventurous and grill a whole bass, which is common.

The Mediterranean diet can have a lot of advantages for personal health and well-being. Along with exercise and social support, it can play a big role in promoting a better lifestyle.