Forget dieting in 2024. Do this instead

Forget dieting in 2024. Do this instead
  • PublishedJanuary 3, 2024

In much of the sunny Mediterranean, mealtime is a means to an end. The food, while freshly prepared and delicious, is secondary to the main event — a gathering of friends and family, where boisterous talk about the events of the day is often mixed with loud and infectious laughter.

This sense of community is the cornerstone of the award-winning Mediterranean diet, experts say. Add daily walks and meals with little red meat or sweets and a focus on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and you have a style of eating that nutritionists have labeled “best diet” six years in a row.

“Even though it’s called the Mediterranean diet, it’s not really a diet,” Atlanta registered dietitian Rahaf Al Bochi, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told CNN in an earlier interview. “It doesn’t tell you what to eat and not eat. It’s a lifestyle that encourages consuming all food groups but gives more weight to those which have the most health benefits.”

Not convinced? Studies have also found the Mediterranean method reduces risk of diabeteshigh cholesterolheart disease, strokedementia and depression, to name a few.

So why not ditch your thoughts of a diet for 2024, and start treating food as part of healthy lifestyle instead? Sign up for CNN’s Eat, But Better: Mediterranean Style newsletter, an eight-part series that guides you in this delicious, expert-backed meal plan that’s good for your health.

Here are five tips from that series to jump-start your new outlook on healthy eating.

Whole grains are easy

One of the easiest steps to take when starting the Mediterranean diet, experts say, is to replace refined grains with whole grains. Choose whole wheat bread and pasta and replace white rice with brown or wild rice.

Consider “ancient grains.” Quinoa, amaranth, millet, farro, spelt, Kamut (a wheat grain said to be discovered in an Egyptian tomb) and teff (an Ethiopian grain about the size of a poppy seed) are some good choices. Each has a different taste and texture, so try out one a month until you find your favorite.

Prioritize a different protein

To maximize the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, push meat to the side. Varied sources of protein are key — consider lentils, canned beans and chickpeas instead.

An easy way to start, Al Bochi says, is to cook one meal each week based on beans, whole grains and vegetables, using herbs and spices to add punch. When one night a week is a breeze, add two, and build your meals without meat from there.

The Mediterranean diet is easy to find in the grocery store, contains nutrients that are known to enhance longevity and has other health benefits that are backed by peer-reviewed, scientific studies. Broccoli makes the list because it’s one of nature’s most nutrient-dense foods, with only 30 calories per cup. That means you get a ton of hunger-curbing fiber and polyphenols — antioxidants that detoxify cell-damaging chemicals in your body — with each serving.

Doctors suggest using olive oil rather than butter to make your meals. A Spanish study found a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events among patients with a history of heart disease.
Quinoa is the popular whole-grain du jour because it also contains a good dose of protein to help build muscle. Yet including any type of whole grain in your diet -- from barley to brown rice -- will aid in weight loss by filling you up for fewer calories.

Many dieters shy away from nuts because of their high calorie and fat count. But studies show that eating a handful several times a week can prevent heart disease and ultimately help you shed pounds since they fill you up and stop you from snacking on other things. Almonds, in particular, contain lots of monounsaturated fats and fiber. (Healthy swap: Replace peanut butter with almond butter.)
Salmon is also a good source of lean protein. With this diet, doctors suggest eating fish at least two times a week. Salmon provides a high dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which studies show significantly lower the risk of heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids fight back by reducing inflammation and slowing the rate of plaque buildup in blood vessels.
Beans, beans, the magical fruit; the more you eat, the more ... you lose weight. Black, kidney, white and garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas) are good for fiber and protein. They fill you up and provide muscle-building material without any of the fat that meat can add to your meal.

Walnuts are packed with tryptophan, an amino acid your body needs to create the feel-great chemical serotonin. (In fact, Spanish researchers found that walnut eaters have higher levels of this natural mood-regulator.) Another perk: "They're digested slowly," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center. "This contributes to mood stability and can help you tolerate stress."
Asparagus is one of the best veggie sources of folate, a B vitamin that could help keep you out of a mental slump. "Folate is important for the synthesis of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine," said David Mischoulon, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. All of these are crucial for mood.
It's not a requirement to drink it on this diet, but if you do drink alcohol, red wine in moderate amounts can be good for your health. Moderation means one drink for women and two for men, by the way. Studies show red wine can help protect against heart disease.
The Mediterranean diet is easy to find in the grocery store, contains nutrients that are known to enhance longevity and has other health benefits that are backed by peer-reviewed, scientific studies. Broccoli makes the list because it's one of nature's most nutrient-dense foods, with only 30 calories per cup. That means you get a ton of hunger-curbing fiber and polyphenols -- antioxidants that detoxify cell-damaging chemicals in your body -- with each serving.

The American Heart Association suggests eating a wide variety of seafood to minimize any adverse effects from mercury and other contaminants. Focus on shrimp, salmon, pollock, canned light tuna and catfish, which tend to have the lowest levels of mercury, and reduce consumption of swordfish, shark, mackerel and tilefish, which have the highest levels.

In the Mediterranean, sugary sweets are luxuries reserved for weddings and other special occasions. “Eating fruit that is in season is the dessert of choice in the Mediterranean region,” Al Bochi said, “rather than our typical pastries, cookies and cakes.”

If you tire of eating raw fresh fruit, get creative. Poach pears in pomegranate juice with a bit of honey, then reduce the sauce and serve over Greek yogurt. Grill pineapple or other fruits and drizzle with honey. Make a sorbet out of fruit, including avocado (it’s really a fruit). Stuff a fig or date with goat cheese and sprinkle on a few nuts. Create a brown rice apple crisp or even a whole wheat fruit tart.

Add joyful movement and socialize

Remember, eating the Mediterranean way isn’t all about food. Being mindful at meals, socializing and getting fresh air and exercise are also key parts of this new way of living.

“The Mediterranean lifestyle is walking with friends and family,” registered dietitian Kelly LeBlanc, vice president of nutrition programming for Oldways, a nonprofit nutrition organization dedicated preserving traditional diets based on African, Asian, Latin American and Mediterranean heritages.

“Instead of thinking of exercise as something that you have to do, just walk or dance or move in joyful ways,” she said.

Nutritionists such as Al Bochi encourage each meal to be at least 20 minutes long.

“I understand that can be hard for a lot of people to implement but start small,” she said. “Turn off the TV, put away the cell phone, focus on meaningful conversations, chew slowly and pause between bites. That could be the start to your mindful eating journey.”

SOURCE: CNNNEWS

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