Choices. It is estimated that we make 35,000 of them each day. From small to large, choices affect us all in one way or another. In this busy, chaos filled life, some choices stop us in our tracks and rob from our lives, while others cause insignificant mishaps. Jobs, relationships, friendships, money and health are all entangled with our choices. Sometimes, we know which route to take, but too often, lengthy detours occur because we are misled. Because we are making thousands of decisions throughout the day – why not take a moment to learn about a few choices that are life changing. Bettering your health and lengthening your lifespan can be as simple as what you choose to place in your grocery cart. If you make the choice to follow the Mediterranean Diet, you may add to your life, and subtract from your daily decision-making.
Let’s discuss grocery shopping. All of us have a love hate relationship with this essential act. We love to have our pantry full, yet often wish we hadn’t chosen the foods we see staring at us from the shelves. We have all heard the saying, “ If you don’t bring it in the house, you can’t eat it.” While that statement is accurate, most of us still buy tempting foods with empty calories, only leaving us to choose the next snack after our sugar crash. Not only is buying the wrong foods disheartening, so are the numerous choices of foods claiming to be healthy yet yielding poor results. With store items screaming to be purchased, the mere act of shopping can feel overwhelming. Too often, we revert to what is comfortable, quick and familiar– and not the healthy choice. What actually is the right choice? When researching natural, healthy foods, a few words kept repeating: phytochemical, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory. These are not sections in a grocery store, so it is difficult to ask an assistant to help you locate the words mentioned above. If they are so healthy – then where are they and why are they so hard to find? How can I make these nutritious choices a part of my diet? Upon further research, I discovered that the Mediterranean style eating is exactly what encompasses these healthy choices and provides the nutrients our bodies seek.
Let’s start with Phytochemicals. These are defined as any of the various biologically active compounds found in plants. This definitely makes things a lot easier! Eating more of dark leafy greens can add this healthy compound to our diet. While each shopper has their own favorite vegetable, the description is accurate; the darker the leaf, the better it is for you. Yes – choose that one! If you need some ideas to add to your next week’s shopping list, here they are: kale, beet greens, mustard greens, collard greens, spinach and mixed green salads. Eat these foods raw, sautéed, cooked, or added to a fruit smoothie. Start with your favorites and then add some new varieties, as healthy choices become a habit. Eating a variety of healthy unprocessed and minimally processed foods can provide you with a longer lifespan and a much shorter grocery list.
Greece, France, Spain, Lebanon, Turkey, Morocco, and the southern parts of Italy are locations where the Mediterranean way of eating has been tried and true. The beautiful people in these locations would share that another key ingredient to their daily foods are antioxidants. Since free radicals found in most processed foods cause cancer, diabetes and heart disease, antioxidants are definitely needed. They actively combat radicals in our bodies and keep us healthy. In simple terms – foods chock-full of antioxidants fight for us. Some “soldiers” to consider for our body are herbs. While they look delicate and fragile, they go to war against free radicals in our system and slow the damage to our cells. Add some basil, oregano, parsley, mint and dill to any of your dishes and choose an easy detox for your body. My favorite antioxidant choice is dark chocolate. Adding a few bites a day can clear the toxins away.
Most people connect olive oil to the Mediterranean regions, and rightly so. According to the Seattle Times Italy, Spain and Greece are the top three producers of olive oil in the world. This healthy additive provides delicious antioxidants and is also anti-inflammatory. Add this simple nutrient to your salads, pasta, eggs and vegetables, and you have a quick solution for maintaining your health. People who consume olive oil improve their mobility, reduce heart disease and have tastier food! Choose extra virgin olive oil if you are a beginner. The lighter taste will ease you into this new healthy choice. Go ahead – add it to your list!
Finally, let’s talk magic beans. In Mediterranean countries, lentils, hummus, and fava beans are the preferred choice for protein, fiber and nutrients. These simple, yet powerful ingredients can create tasty dishes which will leave you clamoring for more. The plant-based fiber rich meals create healthy balances in your body AND your checkbook. Not only is protein vitally important, but also are healthy fats. Add heart-healthy almonds, walnuts, pistachios, and hazelnuts to your list and save the processed treats for someone else.
Most of us don’t live in the Mediterranean and yet we get why it is such a special place. We search travel videos and people from this region because they have a special way about them. They seem lighter, happier and healthier. Studies show that eating phytochemicals, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory foods help us live longer, and enjoy the days we are given. Look at your grocery list – it is now short, healthy and full of life giving ingredients. Oh – one last item to write down on the list – lemons. Lemon juice and lemon zest are both high in healthy flavonoids and a staple item in the Mediterranean. Add an amazing squeeze to any dish to give it that extra zing! (You can also choose to make lemonade when life gives you lemons!) Choices matter and can offer health, wealth and provide a less stressful life. The Mediterranean Diet is a choice that will make your grocery cart lighter, your heart happier, your life – healthier.