On Your Health

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Mediterranean Cooking: The Heart-Healthy Eating Plan

As a cardiologist with INTEGRIS Cardiovascular Physicians in Oklahoma City, Dr. George W. Madden has always talked with his patients about the importance of a healthy lifestyle to maintain a healthy heart. “As I discussed things like exercising and eating a healthier diet, patients would often ask me which specific diet I would prescribe them. My medical training taught me to only recommend treatments or procedures that have evidence-based, documented success,” Madden says.

So Dr. Madden started researching diets, and soon he discovered clinical trials out of Spain that proved the Mediterranean Diet could prevent cardiovascular disease. “It was good data, and then I found studies that had been published in the New England Journal of Medicine that also supported the Mediterranean Diet.”

In fact, just last month U.S. News & World Report chose the Mediterranean Diet as the best overall diet in its annual assessment of all the diets out there, thanks to the scientific research that suggests the diet can help improve longevity and ward off chronic diseases.

Dr. Madden began following the diet, and he started telling his patients about it. “The challenge is, when I talk to people about it, the Mediterranean Diet sounds sophisticated, and possibly time-consuming and expensive, even though in reality it’s pretty simple.” Dr. Madden and his physician assistant, who has a strong interest in nutrition, decided they would create a simplified pamphlet explaining the diet, and offer a sample grocery list and meal plan, which helped patients quickly understand how easy the Mediterranean Diet actually is.

“Really, it’s cutting red meat, eating fish for a meal once a week, eating a meal that is made up of mostly beans once a week, cooking with olive oil and snacking on nuts. It’s simple and inexpensive,” he says.

Adopting the Mediterranean Diet will make you feel better in the short-term (and long-term) and will save money on grocery bills now and health care bills later. “Focusing on a holistic approach to health care is what I’m interested in. It’s not just medications and procedures. I spend about 40 percent of my time talking with patients about how lifestyle impacts health,” Madden says.

Since February is American Heart Month, we are excited to bring you info on the diet that has proven heart-health benefits and is heartily (get it?) recommended by Dr. Madden.

The health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

 Among other things, following a Mediterranean Diet can:

  • Increase longevity
  • Protect against type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce the risk of heart disease
  • Protect against cancer
  • Reduce depression
  • Manage blood sugar
  • Strengthen bones
  • Lower your weight/BMI
  • Lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease 
  • Reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Sounds great, right? But what does the Mediterranean Diet look like and how does it work? Turns out, along with all of these potential health benefits, it’s also a very delicious and fresh way to eat. A traditional Mediterranean Diet means lots of olive oil, whole grains and vegetables.

Key components of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil
  • Eating mostly plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Enjoying meals with family and friends
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
  • Getting plenty of exercise

Now that you know the ropes, are you ready to begin? 


3 Mediterranean Diet Recipes

One Pot Greek Chicken and Lemon Rice

From Mediterranean Diet Roundtable

Ingredients

Chicken and Marinade

  • 5 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in (about 2 lb)
  • 1 - 2 lemons, use the zest + 4 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Rice

  • 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, separated
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 cup long grain rice
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth/stock
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • Black pepper

Garnish

  • Finely chopped parsley or oregano (optional)
  • Fresh lemon zest (highly recommended)

Directions

  1. Combine the chicken and marinade ingredients in a Ziploc bag and set aside for at least 20 minutes but preferably overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 350F.
  3. Remove chicken from marinade, but reserve the marinade.
  4. Heat 1/2 tbsp olive oil in a deep, heavy, oven-safe skillet over medium high heat.
  5. Place the chicken in the skillet, skin side down, and cook until golden brown, then turn and cook the other side until golden brown. Remove the chicken and set aside.
  6. Pour off fat and wipe the pan with a scrunched up ball of paper towel (to remove black bits), then return to the stove.
  7. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in the skillet over medium high heat. Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes until translucent. Then add the rice, remaining ingredients and reserved marinade.
  8. Let the liquid come to a simmer and let it simmer for 30 seconds. Place the chicken on top then place an oven-safe lid on the skillet.. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes. Then remove the lid and bake for a further 10 minutes, or until all the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender (so 45 minutes in total).
  9. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving, garnished with parsley or oregano and fresh lemon zest, if desired.

Tuscan White Bean Stew

From the Mayo Clinic

Ingredients

For the croutons:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, quartered
  • 1 slice whole-grain bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

For the soup:

  • 2 cups (about 1 pound) dried cannellini or other white beans, picked over and rinsed, soaked overnight, and drained
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped yellow onion
  • 3 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus 6 sprigs
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or broth

Directions

  1. To make the croutons, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes to infuse the garlic flavor into the oil. Remove the garlic pieces and discard. Return the pan to medium heat. Add the bread cubes and saute, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
  2. To make the soup, combine in a soup pot the white beans, water, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover partially and simmer until the beans are tender, 60 to 75 minutes. Drain the beans, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Discard the bay leaf. Place the cooked beans into a large bowl and save the cooking pot for later use.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the reserved cooking liquid and 1/2 cup of the cooked beans. Mash with a fork to form a paste. Stir the bean paste into the cooked beans.
  4. Return the cooking pot to the stovetop and add the olive oil. Heat over medium-high heat. Stir in the onion and carrots and saute until the carrots are tender-crisp, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until softened, about 1 minute. Stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, the pepper, chopped rosemary, bean mixture and stock. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the stew is heated through, about 5 minutes.
  5. Ladle the stew into warmed bowls and sprinkle with the croutons. Garnish each bowl with a rosemary sprig and serve immediately.

Simple Maple Vanilla Baked Pears

From Sallysbakingaddiction.com

Ingredients

  • 4 Anjou pears
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Cut pears in half, then cut a small sliver off the underside so the pears sit flat when placed upright on the baking sheet. Core out the seeds. Arrange pears, facing up, on the baking sheet. Sprinkle evenly with cinnamon – feel free to add as much cinnamon as you'd like.
  3. Whisk the maple syrup and vanilla extract together in a small bowl. Drizzle most of it all over the pears, reserving about 2 tablespoons for after the pears have finished baking.
  4. Bake pears for about 25 minutes until soft and lightly browned on the edges. Remove from the oven and immediately drizzle with remaining maple syrup mixture. Serve warm with granola and yogurt. Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

 

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