You don't have to make every night Spanish, Moroccan or Greek night in order to eat the Mediterranean way and get the health benefits of the diet. What's essential is to increase the amount and variety of vegetables in your diet, switch to olive oil for cooking, sauces and salad dressings and move away from processed and commercially produced foods -- loaded with sugar and unhealthy fat -- toward healthy alternatives.
Two Ways to Change Food Habits
"When it comes to making the switch (to a healthier Mediterranean diet) we suggest there are two categories of people," says Miles Hassell, director of Providence Cancer Center's Integrative Medicine program. "Some people will just go right through the house and throw out everything they know they shouldn't have, and make a clean sweep. Those people do very well. They take change seriously. And I think people should consider that possibility -- especially if they have family and kids. Gather the teenagers around and say, 'Guys we're going to make some really big changes and this is how it's going to be.'"
What about the other group?
"When I say why don't you eat more vegetables, they glare at me. They don't like vegetables. But when I ask what they like they usually admit to one or two. So for a while they eat those." Hassell says he encourages people to try new vegetables that may be similar to vegetables and fruit they like. And he suggests different cooking methods. Many people enjoy vegetables when they are roasted, for example.
With his sister Mia Hassell, Hassell published a book designed to help people enjoy healthy eating. Good Food, Great Medicine contains chapters that explain how the diet works, as well as dozens of suggestions for daily menus, snacks and recipes. Check out this sample menu and recipes.
Your tastes will develop and change if you give new tastes and textures a chance, Dr Hassell says. So if you don't like too many fruits and vegetables at the moment, don't despair. Find recipes that use the vegetables you do like. Eat the fruit you enjoy and keep exploring. Try using olive oil as your preferred cooking oil. Cut out sodas and junk food and replace them with healthy snacks. This more gradual approach can work too, if you stick with it.
"The reason we love the Mediterranean diet is that it contains great foods that people can enjoy, Hassell said. "Just remember why you are doing this – to prevent or reverse diabetes and heart disease."