Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND
The Mediterranean Diet has long been celebrated for promoting health, especially heart health. Recently published research on the Green Mediterranean Diet provides more evidence of the many health benefits this eating pattern may provide, including reduced risk of heart disease, smaller waist size, and a lower chance for developing Type 2 diabetes.
What is the Green Mediterranean Diet?
The traditional Mediterranean Diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, beans and other legumes, whole grains, fermented dairy products like yogurt, seafood, plant-based oils like extra virgin olive oil, nuts, and seeds. The Green Mediterranean Diet, tested by researchers in Israel on middle age men and women at increased risk of heart disease, included walnuts, green tea, and Mankai—three foods backed by research showing benefits of the plant phenols they contain as well as other health-promoting substances.
What are plant phenols?
Phenols are substances naturally produced by plants that may provide health benefits. More than 500 phenols have been identified in foods and beverages. There are four classes of phenols, each containing many individual phenols with various benefits. Here are a few examples of specific types of phenols and common foods that contain them.
- Flavonoids: Tannins are found in red wine and walnuts; catechins are found in green tea and Mankai; and proanthocyanidins are found in cocoa.
- Lignans: Lignans are found in products made from cereal crops, like wheat bran and flax seeds.
- Phenolic Acids: Caffeic acid is found in highest levels in herbs like thyme and sage and in moderate levels in sunflower seeds. Mankai contains several phenolic acids. Oleocanthal is a phenolic acid found in extra virgin olive oil that has strong anti-inflammatory properties, similar to that of ibuprofen.
- Stilbenes: Resveratrol, found in grapes and berries, is the best-known stilbene.
How can you adopt a Green Mediterranean eating pattern?
Here are four tips for kick-starting your commitment to better health.
- Make half of what you eat at every meal or snack fruits and vegetables. One mistake many people make is thinking “fresh is best”, but when it comes to harnessing the health benefits of fruits and vegetables, all forms—fresh, frozen, canned, dried, and 100% juice—count. Processed fruits and vegetables, especially frozen, have other benefits, including reducing food waste. If you are worried about added sodium in canned vegetables like beans, know that draining the canning liquid and rinsing the vegetables can reduce sodium by about 30%.
- Add an ounce of walnuts to your daily routine. Walnuts are the only nut that contain significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. You can use walnuts to add plant-based protein and healthy fats to your morning smoothie, you can snack on walnuts, and you can use them as the crunchy topping on your salad with dinner.
- Focus on drinking healthy beverages, like water, coffee, and green tea. Water is critical for hydration, coffee provides antioxidants, and green tea provides catechins that help reduce inflammation throughout the body. Some emerging research suggests that drinking green tea may also reduce anxiety and provide other mood benefits. That afternoon cup of tea may be more soothing that you thought.
- Add Mankai to your daily diet. Mankai provides so many nutrients with potential health benefits, including high quality plant protein, fiber, iron, vitamin B12, and omega-3s. It’s a very versatile green vegetable that can be added to nearly any food or beverage, from smoothies and salad dressings to sauces, spreads, soups, and more. Consider making a Mankai Apple Banana Smoothie for breakfast two to three days a week. Add some walnuts to further boost nutrients as you show the world your commitment to better health in 2021.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy Myrdal Miller is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) who has focused her professional work on promoting food and lifestyle choices that promote good health. She is the founder of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, an agriculture, food, and culinary communications firm. Clients include Hinoman USA. A farmer’s daughter from North Dakota, today she and her husband live near Sacramento, CA, with their two super naughty cats Violet Grey and Schroeder, a.k.a., the Kittens with Mittens.