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One More Possible Benefit of the Mediterranean Diet

Hey, friend, it’s the first Wednesday of the month again, so I’ve been thinking about our next Fundamental Foods and Friends Dinner, which is just a week away – April 11. I look forward to this every month and I hope you do as well.

This month’s dinner is absolutely one you don’t want to miss…if you live in Naples area. To my readers in other parts of the country, I’m sorry, you’ll have to settle for the Facebook Live that will start at 6:15 p.m. Eastern Time. I’m sure you will enjoy the teaching, but you won’t be able to experience the taste and smell of the amazing food prepared by my special guest, Juliana Sagitta of Mediterranean Meals here in Naples.

This office suite is going to smell awesome!

Experimenting With The Mediterranean Diet

So while I’m sorry that you won’t get to enjoy the dinner with us, I want to encourage you to experiment with the Mediterranean Diet for yourself.

I know that many people close up when you start talking about diets, but as I’ve shared throughout this series, when I talk about a diet, I’m talking about a lifestyle. Our culture has distorted the word “diet” to mean a quick-fix, short-term change in eating habits for the sole purpose of losing weight. That’s such a shallow view of the word that it grieves me how people use it.

As we look at the Mediterranean Diet, we see a lot of fresh vegetables, some fruits, a little meat and grain, and a whole lot of pure olive oil. That is almost completely upside-down of how the Standard American Diet works (which is why so many Americans are obese and pre-diabetic and so few people from the Mediterranean Basin are).

Our Upside-down Food System

Like I mentioned last week, we eat too much meat, and our bodies convert excess protein to glucose, which spikes our blood sugar and triggers a cascade of insulin. We eat too much bread and pasta, with the same effect. We consume WAY too much sugar in various forms, and it is just making matters worse (not to mention the mood swings and the energy roller-coaster that go along with it). While all of those things are present in the Mediterranean Diet, it’s a tiny amount compared to what we eat in America. They treat meat, grains, and sweets like condiments – just enough to add flavor.

The bulk of the Mediterranean Diet is things that nourish and energize your body naturally. To some people, that sounds like a curse, but this food is breathtakingly delicious – it’s just not the sugar-heavy sweetness we are accustomed to. Once you get free from the mind-controlling qualities of sugar, you will never go back.

But What About Meat?

If you’re not a salad eater, I understand where you come from. I wasn’t either, for a long time. Many people think that vegetables aren’t satisfying like meat. To some extent, that’s true. But unlike my vegan friends, I encourage you to have a little wild salmon, some organic grass-fed beef, or some pasture-raised chicken. Not a half-pound at every meal, but a portion about the size of a deck of cards two or three times a week.

Olive Oil – The Wonder Food?

Then add some organic virgin olive oil. That’s the part so many people forget. Olive oil is great for your health on so many levels – heart-healthy, brain-healthy, and gut-healthy. Your brain needs omega-3 fatty acids to survive. Olive oil provides them in spades. Your bloodstream also knows how to use olive oil to its advantage, whereas other oils can clog your arteries over time. Many vegetable-based oils are bad for your heart (notably corn, vegetable, canola, and peanut), especially when you heat them up. And that’s not the worst part of what they do to you.

Free Radicals Working Against You

That brings me to the matter of free radicals. Free radicals are broken cells that drift around your body, stealing electrons from other cells. Why are they broken? They undergo a process called, “oxidative stress,” where oxygen molecules break down into single atoms with unpaired electrons. Electrons need to be in pairs, so these free radicals roam around your body like zombies, seeking out other electrons to complete their pairs. In doing so, they damage other cells around them, and the process never stops until you start building healthy cells.

You’ve likely heard the word, “antioxidant.” It usually appears in advertisements for nutritional drinks and vitamin supplements. Antioxidants protect cells from oxidation. Fresh, raw fruits and vegetables like blueberries, spinach, kale, cherries, strawberries, and citrus fruits are high in anti-oxidants, which protect your cells from the processes that break them down.

Put It All Together

So let’s review:

  • Antioxidants protect your cells.
  • Vegetables and fruits are high in antioxidants.
  • The Mediterranean Diet is high in vegetables and fruits (and cold-pressed virgin olive oil is an amazing source of antioxidants).

Sounds to me like we are moving in the right direction with a simple change of habit.

Now I want to do one better.

Protecting Your Brain

Free radicals are especially hard on one particular group of very important cells — your fragile and delicate brain cells. There is a pile of new research linking free radical damage to dementia and other cognitive problems.

If we can adapt our diet away from foods that promote free radical damage to foods that protect our cells, we might be able to slow — or even reverse — the negative effects on our brains.

If that’s not incentive enough to order a salad, I don’t know if I can help you.

A Brain-healthy Salad

So, let’s build a brain-healthy salad that you will look forward to:

  • Start with a bed of spinach or (for a little more flavor) baby spring greens. About two cups should do the trick.
  • Next, let’s add a garnish of brain-healthy blueberries. Half a cup should be plenty.
  • Then, sprinkle on some sliced, raw (not dry-roasted) walnuts, pecans, or almonds (or a blend). Not peanuts. For some variety, chop up a half-cup of macadamia nuts. Any of these are high in the good kinds of fat your brain needs, but my vote would go to macadamias and pecans first.
  • I like to spread some fresh avocado over a salad like this. That’s another source of good fat. Some people like to make their own guacamole with a little finely-diced onion, tomato, cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, and lime juice. That’s fine. Whatever makes you enjoy the salad. It might take away from the taste of the berries, but it’s good to experiment.
  • Finally, let’s top it off with 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. It you want to kick it into overdrive, blend the oil with some fresh-pressed lemon juice or a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. But be warned: you’ll never want to go back to other salad dressings.
  • If you want to get a little meat in here, a quarter-cup of shredded chicken breast (boiled or grilled), sliced grilled salmon, or diced steak will do nicely. You don’t need much. Remember, we’re treating meat as a condiment here — just to give it some flavor and the amino acid series that is missing from vegetables.
  • A pinch or two of Himalayan salt, oregano, and/or maybe some rosemary to add that final touch. This is going to be entirely up to you. You might find that you like them all plus a few other spices. The sky is the limit on spices.

I can’t promise you will feel like Albert Einstein after this meal, but you feel like you ate more wisely. If this meal is a departure from your normal fare, don’t be surprised if you feeling a little better than you normally do when you wake up. You are giving your body much-needed nourishment and not giving it chemicals it doesn’t need.

Join Us For Dinner

Speaking of eating more wisely, don’t forget to join us for dinner next Thursday at our practice, which is behind the YMCA on Pine Ridge Road in Naples. It’s going to be a great night of teaching and eating rich, delicious Mediterranean food. RSVP on my Facebook page now to save your space. These classes get bigger every month and I don’t want you to miss out. And while you’re on Facebook, be sure to share this article with your friends and family. You never know who might be looking for just the right incentive to start eating right – and you will be the catalyst to help them start that journey.

“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING. At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas

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