RESOURCES

How to eat and live the MediterrAsian way


If you want to enjoy the pleasures and health benefits of a MediterrAsian way of living, here are some simple guidelines to follow:

1. Make plant-based foods the foundation of your meals

Vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds form the foundation of most traditional Mediterranean and Asian meals. These foods are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your body needs for optimal health such as beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium and folate. Many plant foods also contain protein, with legumes (beans, peas and lentils) as well as nuts and seeds being particularly good sources. High plant food intake has also been shown to lower blood pressure and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. As an added bonus, plant-foods are packed with other powerful health-giving compounds such as antioxidants, phytochemicals as well as soluble and insoluble fiber. These compounds have all shown remarkable potential for cancer and heart disease prevention, slowing the aging process, boosting immune function, helping prevent osteoporosis and improving overall well being.

2. Get most of your fat from plant and fish oils

Most of the fats in traditional Mediterranean and Asian diets come from plant oils (such as olive oil and peanut oil), nuts and seeds, and omega-3 rich fat in the fish and seafood they eat. Monounsaturated fat (the principal source of fat in olives and olive oil, peanut oil, avocados and certain nuts) has been shown to help lower potentially harmful LDL cholesterol levels without affecting “good” HDL levels. Studies have also shown that monounsaturated fat can help control high blood pressure, lower the risk of stroke and can help to assist brain function well into old age. Monounsaturated fat also contains lots of vitamin E, a powerful disease-fighting antioxidant. Omega-3 fat comes with a myriad of its own benefits, see below.

3. Enjoy fish and shellfish regularly

Fish is a staple food in both Mediterranean and Asian diets. Fish and shellfish are a rich source of protein and also contain high amounts of many essential vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, iron, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin E, magnesium and zinc. Fattier types of fish such as salmon, anchovies, tuna, mackerel and sardines also contain high amounts of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. This special type of fat has been shown in studies to reduce the risk of heart disease, sudden heart attack, and the risk of stroke. Omega-3 fat has also shown a great deal of potential for helping those affected by brain and immune system related illnesses such as arthritis, asthma and Alzheimer’s disease.

4. Cut back on red meat

Red meat has traditionally been eaten sparingly throughout Asia and the Mediterranean, except on special feast days. In general it was used in small amounts as a flavor and texture enhancer. Many studies have found that high consumption of red meat can have a major impact on your health. For example, a large-scale study from Harvard School of Public Health analyzed the eating habits of 84,136 women for 26 years and found that those who had two servings a day of red meat had a 30 percent greater risk of developing heart disease compared to those who had half a serving daily. Red meat has also been linked in numerous studies to increased risk of bowel cancer.

But the thought of cutting back on red meat usually leads to the inevitable question: "where am I going to get my protein?" Our answer: from fish, shellfish, legumes (beans, peas and lentils), poultry and nuts. This is where people from Mediterranean and Asian cultures have gotten their protein from for the last few thousand years.

5. Enjoy the occasional sweet treat, but opt mostly for fruits and nuts for snacks and desserts

Researchers from the University of California recruited 25 breast cancer survivors to determine the merits of an Asian-style diet in reducing the risk of breast cancer re-occurrence. The study participants were placed on an Asian-style diet rich in vegetables and grains, low in red meat and saturated fat but rich in omega-3 fat from fish oil, and their progress was noted.

During the three-month study there was no re-occurrence of breast cancer in any of the subjects and the researchers also found that the breast fat composition of the women had bio-chemically changed in response to the diet. In fact, levels of healthy omega-3 in the breast had increased by 40 percent. "My colleagues and I have shown that at least one aspect of human breast composition in American women can be altered to approximate the breast composition of women in certain Asian and European countries…in those countries, the incidence of breast cancer is much lower than it is here," reported John Glaspy, M.D., director of the University of California Oncology Center and lead author of the study. Dr. Glaspy was also surprised at how fast the healthy changes in the breast had occurred: "I think it shows that not only are you what you eat, you are what you ate very recently."

The researchers also noted that the Asian-style diet promoted better cardiovascular health as well as weight loss.

6. Eat cheese and yogurt regularly, but in moderation

Milk spoiled easily in the hot Mediterranean climate, so the best way to preserve it was by turning it into cheese and yogurt. This cheese and yogurt was eaten as an accompaniment to meals, which meant it was generally consumed in moderation (and it’s amazing how far a small amount of strongly flavored cheese like Parmesan can stretch).

7. Drink alcohol in moderation, and with food

People from Mediterranean and Asian cultures have been enjoying alcohol with their meals for thousands of years. Researchers have found that drinking one or two glasses of alcohol every day isn’t only an enjoyable social experience but it can also benefit your body—particularly your heart and arteries by boosting “good” HDL cholesterol levels. Alcohol consumed in moderation is also a good stress-reliever. But the key word with alcohol is moderation, because consumed in excess, alcohol can increase the risk of liver disease and stroke.

8. Move naturally as part of your everyday life

If you want the full benefits that come from adopting the traditional practices of the worlds healthiest and longest living peoples, moderate daily physical activity is also important. But there’s certainly no need for a gym membership or expensive exercise equipment. Simply moving more as part of your everyday life, or what we call “Natural Movement” is the way that people from Mediterranean and Asian cultures have always gotten their physical activity (such as tending their garden or walking to see friends). Over the years we’ve discovered lots of ways to move naturally as part of our everyday lives -- and many of them also happen to be a lot of fun! Incorporating these ideas (or your own natural movement ideas) into your life on a daily basis is a great way to mimic the more active lifestyles of people from traditional Mediterranean and Asian cultures:

  • Walk to the local park for lunch
  • Do some energetic housework
  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Wash the car by hand
  • Window shop
  • Walk to the local store for convenience items
  • Spring clean your attic, basement, or garage
  • Get out into the garden and get your hands dirty and your body moving
  • Park at the far end of the lot and walk the extra distance instead
  • Take the stairs instead of using the elevator or escalator
  • Park a couple of blocks from work and walk the rest of the way
  • Cycle to work
  • Practice yoga
  • Catch public transport to work (which means walking to and from the bus-stop or train station on both ends)
  • Walk the kids to school
  • Dance around the house to your favorite music
  • Play racquet sports such as tennis, badminton, squash, or table tennis
  • Join a dance class
  • Work up a light sweat in the bedroom :)
  • Go for a leisurely bike ride
  • Play a round of golf
  • Fly a kite
  • Go for a swim at a beach, lake or pool
  • Go for a scenic walk
  • Play with the kids
  • Throw or kick a ball around in your backyard or at the local park
  • Try your hand at martial arts
  • Throw around a Frisbee
  • Go for hike
  • Go surfing or kayaking
9. Set aside “Calm time” every day

Another key element to the exceptional health of people from Mediterranean and Asian cultures is their emotional wellbeing. For centuries people from these cultures have made a point of setting aside special time each day to relax and rejuvenate their minds and bodies. The afternoon siesta in Italy, Spain and Greece, and meditation and Tai Chi in Asia are some good examples. But emotional relaxation can also be as simple as sitting in the garden admiring the beauty of nature, or relaxing in a hot bubble bath with candles and incense burning.

Just as you need to sleep each day to be physically recharged, you also need time each day to de-stress, and recharge your emotional energy. We like to call this "calm time". Here are some calm time ideas that you can incorporate into your everyday life:

  • Paint or draw a picture
  • Soak in a hot bubble bath by candlelight
  • Relax in the garden
  • Visit parks, gardens and nurseries
  • Take photos
  • Meditate
  • Write down your feelings in a diary or journal
  • Learn to play an instrument
  • Read or write poetry
  • Plan your next holiday escape
  • Watch a classic movie
  • Visit the library
  • Look through old photos and home movies
  • Go for a sightseeing walk, cycle, or drive
  • Go to the zoo
  • Play a fun leisure game such as darts, pool, table tennis or ten pin bowling
  • Take an art or pottery class
  • Play your favorite computer game
  • Get a pet
  • Visit a museum or local art gallery
  • Play a board game like Monopoly, chess, checkers, or Scrabble
  • Do a crossword puzzle
  • Play Sudoku
  • Do a jigsaw puzzle
  • Play a game of cards
  • Listen to your favorite music
  • Read a book or magazine
  • Relax in front of an open fireplace
  • Practice Tai Chi