From The Nutritionist

Lindsay Vaughn, R.D.
Guest Author:
Lindsay Vaughn, R.D.

The Mediterranean Diet - With a Twist of Convenience

As a dietitian, I am often asked what I eat and which diet I follow. Am I a vegetarian? Do I eat 6 small meals per day? Take shots of kale juice? “Cleanse”? I’ve been asked each of these questions along with plenty of others. As many of you may know, there is not a specific diet or magic food that keeps me (or anyone else) healthy—it is the overall pattern of what we eat. While true, this answer disappoints people—they want specific advice. So instead, I speak to lifestyles disguised as “diets” that make eating well and getting regular exercise a priority. My favorite “diet” to recommend? The Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet, is not a prescriptive eating plan, instead, it is a combination of dietary patterns that researchers first noticed in the 1960’s along the Mediterranean Sea where people have lower rates of chronic disease, especially heart disease1. While diverse, eating patterns throughout this region are traditionally rich in fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish and olive oil with smaller amounts of dairy, poultry, and meats2.

I was glad to see that the U.S News & World Report Best Overall Diets of 2015 ranked Mediterranean diet 3 out of 35 diets reviewed. The review looked at factors like how easy the diet is to follow, safety, and protective health benefits3. Healthy, easy to follow, and safe? Count me in! My favorite part about this lifestyle is that it doesn’t exclude foods, it simply focuses on the nutritious ones. This type of advice is easy to follow whether I am busy, managing multiple food preferences, or entertaining friends and family.

    1. When I am busy

    The Mediterranean diet is rich in a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. I love produce, and work hard to eat plenty of it, but when my schedule is hectic, it is easy to skip this food group. How do I make this Med diet pattern work for me? I make fruit and vegetables as convenient as possible. I keep vegetable juices on hand like V8® Veggie Blends (Find a coupon offer here). For lunches, I like to keep reduced sodium soups that provide at least ½ cup of vegetables like Campbell’s® Healthy Request® Homestyle Spicy Vegetarian Chili (it is extra delicious with a squirt of fresh lime juice).

    2. When I am juggling multiple food preferences

    The Mediterranean diet is versatile, making it easy to accommodate multiple food preferences. It includes a wide variety of proteins, especially fish like tuna and salmon. These fatty fish are a good source of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids which can slow the growth of plaque buildup in the arteries and slightly lower blood pressure4. When my fiancé’s pescetarian (fish, eggs and dairy only) family and my meat-and-poultry-loving family got together for lunch, I easily accommodated everyone’s taste with Tuscan White Bean and Tuna Sandwiches and Chicken Caesar Sandwiches and a simple Mediterranean Chopped Salad for the side. Because everything was easy to prepare, I enjoyed our families instead of bustling around the kitchen.

    3. When I am entertaining

    The Mediterranean region is, perhaps, best known for its love of olive oil. This flavorful monounsaturated fat is good for the heart when it replaces saturated fats. Because there are so many uses for olive oil, it is easy to fit into my entertainment menus. For example, I use light olive oil for sautéing and extra virgin olive oil for salad dressings, soup toppings, and on whole grain bread in place of butter. My Mediterranean-friendly go-to’s are homemade hummus with fresh cut vegetables and toasted whole grain bread topped with extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, and herbs. Yum!

The best part of the Med Diet is that it isn’t a diet at all—it is a lifestyle that focuses on enjoying nutritious foods and leading an active lifestyle with friends and family—something I can easily maintain. So, calling all dietitians, foodies, and health nuts, how do you incorporate the Mediterranean diet into your eating style? Share how on Twitter with the hashtag #FTNMedMyWay.

Cheers,

Lindsay

  1. Mediterranean Diet Review. Best Overall Diets of 2015. US News and World Report. Accessed on March 27 2015 at http://health.usnews.com/best-diet/mediterranean-diet.
  2. Med Diet and Health. Oldways Heritage Preservation Trust. Accessed March 2015 at http://oldwayspt.org/resources/heritage-pyramids/mediterranean-diet-pyramid/med-diet-health.
  3. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. “Building Healthy Eating Patterns.” United States Department of Agriculture. Pgs 44-45 accessed March 2015 at http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/dietaryguidelines2010.pdf.
  4. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. The American Heart Association. Updated May 14, 2014. Accessed March 2015 at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Fish-and-Omega-3-Fatty-Acids_UCM_303248_Article.jsp.

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En Papillote Technique

1. Prepare the parchment paper
Get a large piece of parchment paper, approximately 2.5 times as large as a single portion of food. Cut the paper into a heart shape, lightly brushing one side with oil. This creates a slight barrier to water, preventing the paper from becoming soaked too quickly. Another option, though not as attractive, is to use tin foil instead of parchment paper.

2. Select the ingredients
This is a very quick-cooking approach, so it works best with tender proteins such as fish and shellfish. The accompanying ingredients, like julienned vegetables (matchstick size), must be small enough to cook at the same rate as the fish. In some cases the vegetables can be blanched, or quickly cooked in boiling water, to ensure proper doneness. Fresh herbs will go a long way in providing flavor.

3. Assemble the packet
Lay the oiled, heart-shaped paper on a baking tray, oiled side up. Season your vegetables with salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and half of the herbs. Toss them around for an even coat. Place enough for one portion on half of the paper. Bunch them up to create a bed for your fish, leaving about two inches between the food and the edge of the paper. Place the seasoned fish on the vegetables and sprinkle the remaining herbs. Add a splash of the liquid on top of the fish, just enough to add moisture.

4. Seal the packet
To seal, fold the heart over to enclose the fish and vegetables (so it resembles a teardrop). Starting at the top of the heart, fold about 1/4" of the edge toward the center. Fold over again to create a seal. Continue along the length of the parchment, folding each section twice. When you get to the point of the heart, twist and fold to finish the seal.

5. Bake your dinner
Bake the packet in a 425°F oven for 10-14 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. The packet will puff and brown while in the oven and as the steam builds. When cooked, remove from the oven and carefully place the packet on a plate. With a knife or scissors cut an "X" on the top and fold back the edges for a dramatic presentation and a delicious, healthy meal.

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Spicy Flounder and Clams with Summer Vegetables

Prep Time: Less than 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10-14 minutes
Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup carrots, finely cut julienne
  • 1/3 cup sugar snap peas, cross cut thinly
  • 1/3 cup zucchini, yellow, finely cut julienne
  • 6 each cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 Tbsp. shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. parsley, fresh, minced
  • Dash salt
  • Dash black pepper
  • 6 oz. fillet, flounder (2 fillets, 3oz. each)
  • 2 Tbsp. Low Sodium Spicy Hot V8® 100% Vegetable juice
  • 3/4 lb. clams, in the shell

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Combine the carrots, sugar snap peas, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, shallot, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, half of the parsley, salt and pepper in a bowl. Toss well to combine.
  3. Lightly oil two large heart shaped pieces of parchment paper.
  4. With the parchment paper on a sheet tray, place half of the vegetable mixture in the center of one half of each heart leaving about a 2" border.
  5. Lightly season each fillet with salt and pepper. Fold or roll the fillet to create a uniform thickness and place on top of the vegetables.
  6. Top the fish with the remaining herbs and the Low Sodium Spicy Hot V8® 100% Vegetable juice.
  7. Place half of the clams around each portion of vegetables and fish.
  8. Fold the heart over to enclose the fish and vegetables so that it resembles a teardrop.
  9. Starting at the top of the heart, fold about 1/4" of the edge towards the center. Fold over again to create a seal.
  10. Continue with this method along the length of the parchment packet folding each section twice to make an attractive edge.
  11. When you get to the point of the heart twist and fold to finish the seal.
  12. Bake the packets for 10-14 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fish).
  13. Remove from the oven and serve by cutting an "X" in the top and folding back the edges.

Nutrition Information (per serving):

Calories 180, Total Fat 9g, Saturated Fat 1g, Monounsaturated Fat 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat 1g, Cholesterol 50mg, Sodium 450mg, Carbohydrate 10g, Fiber 2g, Sugar 4g, Protein 16g.