May has been identified as National Mediterranean Diet Month; however, enjoying the Mediterranean Diet makes good sense every month. This healthy eating pattern has long been recognized for its health benefits and has earned top spots in numerous diet rankings including the U.S. News and World Report Best Diet Rankings for Best Diet Overall and the Best Diet for Diabetes. Besides being healthy, this plant-forward diet is approachable, easy to follow, and can be easily adapted to fit the individual preferences and needs. In addition, it is an affordable and tasty way to eat.

One reason the diet is especially healthy is that it is plant-centered. Vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans, whole grains, herbs spices, nuts, seeds, and teas provide a variety of phytonutrients that nourish the body and reduce inflammation. Several of the antioxidants in vegetables and fruits actually provide their distinct colors. Strive to eat a serving from each color group daily.

  • Dark Green: Notable nutrients in this group include carotenoids, calcium, vitamins B6, folate, K.
  • Orange: The vibrant color in this group is due to beta carotene, a cancer-protective antioxidant.
  • Red: Lycopene gives tomatoes their red color and support prostate and bone health.
  • Red/Purple: This color group is rich in anthocyanin which helps protect and maintain every cell in the body.
  • Pale: Onions are a leader in this category. When chopped, they create allicin, an antioxidant known to protect the cardiovascular system, lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels.

Following the Mediterranean Diet is Easy

  • Limit your intake of ultra-processed foods
  • Replace land animal protein with plant protein, fish, seafood and shellfish
  • Strive for five, plus one: eat five servings of non-starchy plus one serving of starchy vegetables every day
  • Enjoy two cups of colorful fruit daily - that’s two medium pieces, one cup chopped or one cup of berries
  • Crunch a handful of nuts (walnuts are especially healthy) and a tablespoon or two of a variety of seeds
  • Replace saturated fat like butter and coconut oil with avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and organic expeller-pressed canola oil
  • Use intact grains (e.g. oats, barley, brown rice, and quinoa) more often than reshaped grains (e.g. bread, crackers, and pasta)
  • Reduce added sugar
  • Season liberally with herbs, spices, garlic, onion, turmeric, and ginger

Hummus, the Arabic word for chickpeas, is delicious food to enjoy as part of the Mediterranean diet. Use it to replace mayonnaise on a sandwich or as a dip for veggies. You may want to thin it with water or vinegar to create a creamy salad dressing. I am sharing one of my favorite bean recipes which can be used like hummus.

White Bean Spread

Yield: About 3 cups

Ingredients:

3 cloves garlic

¼ teaspoon ground white pepper

1 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1, 29-ounce can organic no-salt-added cannellini beans drained and rinsed

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Chopped fresh herbs for garnish

Directions:

Assemble food processor with the chopping blade. Turn on the blender and drop the garlic cloves through the shoot and allow to process until the cloves are finely chopped (they will stick to the sides).

Open the processor and scrape down the sides. Add the white pepper, salt, beans and lemon juice. Turn on the processor and add the oil in a thin stream through the feed tube as the machine runs to create a smooth mixture. Stop processor, scrape down the sides and blend another 30 seconds.

Scrape the spread into a serving bowl and garnish with chopped herbs before serving.

Tip: If you’ve refrigerated the spread, let it come back to room temperature for up to 1 hour before serving for the best flavor. It will keep in the refrigerator in a sealed container for up to five days.

Nancy Teeter, a SaddleBrooke resident, is an Integrative Dietitian Nutritionist and a health coach. Her mission is to help people learn how to eat healthfully and avoid age-related disease.