The Mediterranean Diet evolved from the research of a University of Minnesota professor named Ancel Keys, Ph.D. Beginning in 1958, Dr. Keys and colleagues studied how the diets and lifestyles of roughly 12,000 men from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds influenced their incidences of heart disease.
The results of that study, published 12 years later, showed that incidences of heart disease were extremely rare (particularly on the Isle of Crete) in the Greek and Italian men – those of the Mediterranean area. The Mediterranean diet has evolved along with nutrition science since it was originally introduced by Dr. Keys to the world. We now understand a great deal more about refined vs. whole grains, and that is reflected in the modern Mediterranean food guide pyramid.
Fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and whole grains form the main portion of the Mediterranean food guide pyramid as well as the foundation of the vegetarian approach to eating. Olive oil is prevalent in the Mediterranean diet mainly because that is the region of the world where olives grow in abundance and therefore where olive oil is made.
Keep in mind that drowning your healthy dishes in olive oil will do you no favors, health-wise. Calories are calories, whether from artery-clogging saturated fat or heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, so anything that will pack on the pounds should be consumed in moderation (this goes for nuts and seeds, as well – a handful a day is all that is recommended due to their calorie concentration). You will find that olive oil, particularly extra virgin olive oil, is quite flavorful and a light drizzle goes a long way.
The Mediterranean food pyramid includes dairy products to be eaten daily, but in moderate amounts. They are considered more of an accent food – a small wedge of fresh cheese or a small cup of plain yogurt with fruit. Fish, poultry and eggs are recommended to be eaten only a few times a week, and red meat is at the very top of the pyramid – to be consumed occasionally and in small amounts.
Whether you are a lacto-ovo or strict vegetarian – or even a vegan – it is very simple to substitute legumes, nuts, seeds, and vegetarian meat replacements for those animal products that are included in the Mediterranean diet.
Keep checking back for vegetarian recipes from the Mediterranean!
Ceci Penne Florentine
Cool Summer Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce
Cretan Braised Pulses
Dolmas (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
Greek Scalloped Potatoes
Grilled Stuffed Eggplant
Lemon-Herb Eggplant Parmesan
Polenta with Mushroom-Tomato Sauce and Gorgonzola
Roasted Vegetable Lasagna