Category: Diets

Depending on who you ask, you might find anti-inflammatory recommendations that encourage complete elimination of sugar and carbohydrates to decrease inflammation. This reasoning is often used as support for a keto diet ____. As is frequently the case, though, those recommendations are likely unnecessary extremes and everything is case-by-case. For one thing, you can probably achieve the anti-inflammatory benefits you’re looking for while still including well chosen, nutrient dense complex carbohydrates. Secondly, why over-restrict if we can still enjoy some tasty treats in moderation? That’s how we balance meeting health goals and living a life we love! So what does the research actually say about carbs and inflammation?

Multiple studies have linked consumption of concentrated sugar and simple carbohydrate consumption with increased levels of inflammation.1-2 A long time ago I talked in this post about what happens when we eat carbs and how we break them down into blood sugar to use as fuel. Those fuels are stuck in the blood until insulin comes around to let them in to our cells.  Research draws a strong link between chronic inflammation and insulin resistance.3 This is a vicious cycle because insulin resistance means that blood sugars get stuck in the blood without a way out, causing fat storage and inflammation.4 Stored fat then produces inflammatory factors which make insulin resistance worse! Not fair.

So what can we do about it? Well, we can aim to cut inflammation off at the pass by changing parts of our lifestyle and the foods we eat to combat inflammation and give our cells a helping hand with that blood sugar. With regard to carbohydrates, we can do a couple of things specifically:

  1. Focus on eating more complex carbohydrates than simple carbohydrates like sugar. What does that mean? Well, complex carbohydrates are long chains of sugars that take much longer to digest, break down, and enter our blood, thus making our blood sugar much more stable (and preventing inflammation from blood sugar spikes). Simple carbohydrates are individual sugars or tiny chains of sugars that break down very quickly and enter the blood rapidly, causing a sharp spike in blood sugar that is inflammatory. Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans, and vegetables are connected with lower levels of inflammation.5 Same goes for high-fiber carbohydrates like fruit.
  2. Avoid eating too much carbohydrate at once. Just like with diabetes, the key to preventing carbohydrate-induced inflammation is keeping the blood sugar from going too high. Eating controlled amounts of carbohydrate throughout the day can help keep your energy up and your inflammation down.

 

  1. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/94/2/479.short
  2. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/mi/2013/509502/abs/
  3. https://www.jci.org/articles/view/19451
  4. http://www.jbc.org/content/280/6/4617.short
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17391554

Keto

Do I recommend keto to my clients?

 

You’d have to be living in a mole hole to not have heard of the ketogenic diet. Everyone knows someone who’s on it. What everyone wants to know is whether or not keto is safe and effective. Does the keto diet work for weight loss? Is it dangerous?  Is the keto diet nutritionally balanced? Is it easy to follow? There is SO much to say about keto so I’m going to make this post a quick overview. I’ll make more in-depth posts about these topics along the way (with a lot more references), so check back for more info!

 

What does the research say about the keto diet?

Research about the effectiveness of the keto diet (or similar low carb, high fat diets) for weight management is somewhat mixed. Most of the time, keto-like diets are successful at causing weight loss.1-2 Unfortunately, the research also indicates that the success of keeping that weight off long term (1 year or more) is low (and no better than with other types of diets).3-5

Research on keto’s effects on other health markers (cholesterol, blood glucose, insulin, inflammation, etc) is also mixed. Some studies show the keto diet improves cholesterol markers, others demonstrate that it makes them worse.1,6 Research on inflammation is once again, annoyingly, unclear and conflicting.6-7 For the most part, blood glucose and insulin levels do tend to improve1,6, likely because carbohydrates (and therefore the need for insulin) are largely a non-factor in a ketogenic diet.

With all of the conflicting information, it’s no wonder everyone is so confused about the keto diet. In a future post, I will go much more in-depth about what the research says and what conclusions we can pull from it.

 



 

Is the keto diet dangerous?

This answer is a little convoluted (you’re shocked, I know). Short-to-moderate length studies looking to evaluate the safety of the ketogenic diet have mostly unearthed no dangerous results (other than those mentioned above).1 However, few of those studies have looked at the long-term effects of the ketogenic diet (or similar very low carb diets) on metabolism.2,8 By far and away, my largest caution with the keto diet is its long-term effects on metabolism. This is also the main reason I do not recommend the keto diet for my clients and I am not following the keto diet during this feature.

Eating so few carbs mimics a “famine” situation, causing your body to rely more on its body fat stores than on blood glucose. So far, that sounds great, right? But your body expects this to be temporary (think caveman days – in Spring/Summer, the carbs will come back!). After a while, if carbohydrates don’t increase, your body resorts to a more sustainable long-term plan. Your body knows it can’t keep burning through the fat stores – it would rather slow down metabolism and try to preserve its fat stores as much as possible. This nearly always leads to fatigue, brain fog, feeling cold, and a weight loss plateau. Often at this point people become frustrated with the lack of results and begin to eat more carbohydrate. Your body is jazzed – “Spring/Summer is here! We survived! Boy, that was a long one. Next time, we will be even more prepared for Winter.” Translation: we will store more fat. These shifts are backed by documented hormonal changes in mice and humans,4,8-9   and are linked with the weight regain mentioned earlier.

The take-home message: In the long run, very low carb diets like keto teach your body how to store fat more effectively.

 

Is the keto diet nutritionally balanced?

The answer is a big it depends. I would venture to say that the average keto diet is not nutritionally balanced. I would follow that up by saying that it is possible to eat a nutritionally balanced keto diet, but it takes a lot of intention. Here are some of the nutritional weaknesses I see in keto diets:

  • Fiber – Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that composes the structure of certain plant-based foods. Since fiber doesn’t break down into blood glucose, it is not actually limited on the ketogenic diet and will not interfere with ketosis. At the same time, it comes in primarily carbohydrate foods, so the carb limitations often make it quite tricky to get enough fiber while avoiding other carbohydrates. It can be done with certain high-fiber foods such as nuts and seeds, avocados, and berries.
  • Vitamin C – While you can certainly get vitamin C from certain keto-friendly vegetables (hey, peppers!), a lot of the best vitamin C sources are fruits, which are very limited on a keto diet. You can definitely make a point to eat vitamin-C containing foods, but you have to make the point to do so.
  • Saturated fat – These are the types of fats that are primarily found in animal foods. Being a high-fat diet, unless someone is being very intentional in their food choices, a keto diet is typically quite high in saturated fats. While there are some debates around the appropriate recommendations for saturated fat,10 most keto-dieters I’ve talked with are eating WAY more than even some of the higher evidence-based recommendations. High saturated fat intakes are associated with high levels of cholesterol and increased occurrence of dementia.11-12 Keto dieters can buffer this impact by limiting intakes of high fat meats (sausage, bacon, ribs, hot dogs, etc) and dairy in favor of lean and grass-fed meats and reduced fat dairy. Focus on including a variety of plant-based fats like nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil.

 



 

Is the keto diet easy to follow?

This kind of depends (do you see a theme here? It seems nutrition rarely has a clear answer). Some people absolutely LOVE meat and veggies and aren’t so big on the carb-y stuff, and keto totally rocks their world. Others – most, if we’re honest – enjoy at least some carbohydrate foods (or the option to eat them without ruining ketosis) on a regular basis. With ketosis, it’s kind of an all-or-nothing thing. You either need to be in and mostly stay in ketosis or regularly meet your carbohydrate needs. Bouncing back and forth or riding the low-carb-but-not-quite-low-enough-for-ketosis train is generally not an enjoyable ride. Many clients complain about low energy, brain fog, fatigue, and weight fluctuations, particularly coming in and out of ketosis. Digestive disturbances come up frequently as well.

My average client finds keto to be a social and nutritional bummer, because it restricts a lot of foods – particularly delicious and commonly social foods. It can also be a challenge for some to consume enough fat to promote ketosis and meet caloric needs. I can’t even count how many clients and friends have followed keto for a few weeks or months, convinced it was going great, only to decide it was too restrictive and they weren’t enjoying their food quality of life or feeling their best. The same high dropout trend is commonly seen in studies about low-carbohydrate diets.3 When deciding about a diet, be sure to take the nutritional and safety factors into account as well as your personality, favorite foods, and family/friends.

 

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References

  1. Dashti, Hussein M et al. “Long-term effects of a ketogenic diet in obese patients.” Experimental and clinical cardiology vol. 9,3 (2004): 200-5.
  2. David S Ludwig, The Ketogenic Diet: Evidence for Optimism but High-Quality Research Needed, The Journal of Nutrition, nxz308, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxz308
  3. Phelan, S., Wyatt, H., Nassery, S., DiBello, J., Fava, J.L., Hill, J.O. and Wing, R.R. (2007), Three‐Year Weight Change in Successful Weight Losers Who Lost Weight on a Low‐Carbohydrate Diet. Obesity, 15: 2470-2477. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.293
  4. Cardillo, S., Seshadri, P., Iqbal, N. The effects of a Low Carbohydrate vs. Low Fat Diet on adipocytikines in severely obese adults: a three-year-follow-up on a randomized control trial. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci vol. 10 (2006): 99-106.
  5. Foster, G., et al. A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. N Engl J Med (2003); 348:2082-2090
    DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa022207.
  6. Rosenbaum, M., et al. Glucose and lipid homeostasis and inflammation in humans following an isocaloric ketogenic diet. Obesity. 2019 Jun;27(6):971-981. doi: 10.1002/oby.22468. Epub 2019 May 8.
  7. Shen, Y., Kapfhamer, D., Minnella, A.M. et al. Bioenergetic state regulates innate inflammatory responses through the transcriptional co-repressor CtBP. Nat Commun 8, 624 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-017-00707-0
  8. Goldberg, E.L., Shchukina, I., Asher, J.L. et al. Ketogenesis activates metabolically protective γδ T cells in visceral adipose tissue. Nat Metab 2, 50–61 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s42255-019-0160-6
  9. Cooper, E. The Metabolic Storm: The science of your metabolism and how its making you fat. Seattle Performance Medicine. 2015. 2nd edition.
  10. Enos, R., et al. Influence of dietary saturated fat content on adiposity, macrophage behavior, inflammation, and metabolism: composition matters.
  11. Enos, R., et al. Influence of  The Journal of Lipid Research. 2013), 54, 152-163.
  12. Greenwood, C., Winocur, G., High-fat diets, insulin resistance and declining cognitive function. Neurobiology of Aging. Volume 26, Issue 1, Supplement (2005) 42-45. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2005.08.017.
  13. Barnard, N. D., Bunner, A. E., Agarwal, U. Saturated and trans fats and dementia: a systematic review. Neurobiology of Aging. Volume 35, Supplement 2 (2014) S65-S73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2014.02.030.



Keto

What is the ketogenic diet?

It’s feature time again, folks, and it’s finally time to talk about the diet everyone is going on about – keto! The keto (aka ketogenic) diet has gained a lot of popularity in the last few years as a weight loss diet, and proponents tout that you can lose weight quickly without cravings.1 Interestingly enough, the ketogenic diet started as a therapeutic diet for children who suffer from epilepsy. The high fat content of the diet is linked with decreased occurrence of seizures in these kiddos.2

Keto curiosity is rampant! Questions about the keto diet top the list of FAQs from my weight loss clients. Even those who don’t directly ask about keto are often asking about how to limit their carbs to encourage weight loss. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting info about the keto diet – what it is, how it works, and the pros/cons of the diet. I won’t actually be following this one (we’ll talk about why throughout the feature), but we’ll be diving into the research and practicality as always!

 



 

What is the keto diet?

The keto diet is a high fat, moderate protein, low carbohydrate diet.2 The diet is designed to cease your body’s reliance on carbohydrates (broken down into glucose) for energy and instead shift to your body’s alternative fuel source – ketones. In the absence of glucose (aka blood sugar), your body begins to convert fat that you’ve eaten and stored body fat to ketones, which your brain can use for fuel! If you were privy to the Atkins kick, you may be noticing some similarities between the two. You’d be right! The keto diet is something of a reincarnated version of Atkins.

The keto diet includes plenty of vegetables and many high fat and protein foods such as:

  • beef and pork
  • poultry
  • fish
  • processed meats like bacon, sausage, etc.
  • cheese
  • avocado
  • nuts and seeds
  • butter and oils

To limit carbohydrates (usually to around 20-60 g per day), the diet restricts consumption of the following foods:

  • fruit
  • beans
  • certain vegetables such as corn, peas, carrots, and potatoes
  • bread and grains (pasta, rice, cereal)
  • milk and yogurt
  • sugar, honey, and syrups

Keeping the carbohydrate intake low keeps the body from coming out of ketosis, therefore promoting fat loss.

 



 

Stay tuned – we will talk more about the research behind keto and pros/cons of following the diet in future posts!

 

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1. https://www.ketocustomplan.com/articles/effective-way-to-lose-weight-for-good?gclid=Cj0KCQiAs67yBRC7ARIsAF49CdVbbQxjjPg12rojwtotjqps5FjOVRHPjVaDQGWeSIsQ_EA2HF2Y23IaAn7TEALw_wcB

2. https://www.eatright.org/health/weight-loss/fad-diets/what-is-the-ketogenic-diet

Keto

is olive oil the best cooking oil

 

A couple of weeks ago, I wrapped up a three week stent on the Mediterranean Diet. The guidelines of the Mediterranean Diet recommend that your primary fat source be olive oil, supplemented by fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. Olive oil is an excellent choice of fat – it’s loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs).1 Benefits of diets high in MUFAs include:

  • improved blood sugar and insulin sensitivity2
  • lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol2
  • blood vessels less prone to blockages2
  • possibly lower blood pressure2
  • reduced inflammatory responses3

The discovery and publication of these benefits led to a surge in the use of olive oil in all kinds of cooking and baking, for good reason! Who wouldn’t want to reap these benefits? There was, however, one concern looming regarding the use of olive oil in promoting health.

 



 

Smoke Points and Health

‘Smoke point’ is a term frequently discussed in the culinary world. Different oils have different temperatures at which they begin to create smoke and their aromas and flavors begin to change. This temperature is unique to each oil depending on its chemical composition and level of refinement/processing (and even varietal of the plant source4). They can also vary depending on what foods are being cooked in the oils.

Culinary experts recommend not cooking an oil beyond its smoke point largely because of the change in flavor. In addition, some voice concerns about the change in chemical composition that occurs when oils are heated beyond their smoke points.5-7 The general school of thought is that if an oil is heated beyond this point, it produces inflammatory, potentially carcinogenic compounds and some of the oil’s healthful properties can be diminished.8-9

 



 

Here’s where things start to get a bit dicey. Depending on who you ask, the smoke point of olive oil can be anywhere from 390-468° F, with the smoke point of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) being anywhere from 325-410° F.5, 7, 10  Pretty significant ranges! Different cooking methods require different cooking temperatures, shown below.

  • Saute: 300-320° F
  • Pan-Fry: 350-400° F
  • Deep Fry: 350-400° F

Now you might conclude that olive oil is a good choice for a saute and possibly not the best choice for a good hot fry (depending on whose smoke point you go with). A 2018 study by Modern Olives Laboratory Services found that the negative changes that can occur with oils in heating are not so much related to their smoke points as to their general chemical stability.11 After heating many different oils and testing their chemical compositions at high heats for over 24 hours, the researchers found that EVOO was the most stable cooking oil, producing the lowest amounts of oxidative compounds when heated. I’m always hesitant to trust studies whose authors have significant financial stock in the outcome, but this claim is backed by other studies which found that virgin and extra virgin olive oils contained fewer harmful compounds and more antioxidants after frying for several hours, though the antioxidants are less effective after heating.4, 9, 12-14 

 



 

So, should I cook with olive oil or not?

Yes – it turns out cooking with olive oil (particularly extra virgin olive oil) seems to be both a safe and nutritious way to saute or to fry foods. This newer information about olive oil’s stability helps to reconcile the health of those who follow a Mediterranean Diet with previous health concerns about the potential dangers of heating it. As a general rule, try not to use more heat than is necessary for your cooking job and limit time spent on the heat when you can.

Writing this post has actually changed the recommendations I will make to my clients, because I previously subscribed to the “smoke point” theory until I updated myself with this new research. That’s one of the many reasons I make sure to continue to keep up with this blog – it forces me to stay up to date and back up my recommendations!

 



 

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References

1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good

2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9781855739659500042

3. https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/9558730

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21714128

5. https://www.jessicagavin.com/smoke-points-cooking-oils

6. https://www.seriouseats.com/2014/05/cooking-fats-101-whats-a-smoke-point-and-why-does-it-matter.html

7. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/smoke-point-matters-in-cooking-with-oil/article26569060/

8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21714128

9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17995742

10. https://www.aboutoliveoil.org/olive-oil-smoke-point

11. https://actascientific.com/ASNH/pdf/ASNH-02-0083.pdf

12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814615006810?via%3Dihub

13. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/1541-4337.12268

14. https://hortintl.cals.ncsu.edu/sites/default/files/documents/2017novemberchangesinchemicalcompositionsofoliveoilunderdifferentheatingtemperaturessimilartohomecoo.pdf

 



Heart Healthy Mediterranean Diet Wellness Tips

During my time on the Mediterranean Diet, I actually ended up eating out several times. My husband and I make a point to have date day once a week, and then a couple of other family outings and lunch meetings worked their way in as well. It gave me lots of opportunities to see how eating out at different types of restaurants worked with the general Mediterranean diet guidelines.

 

General tips for eating out on a Mediterranean Diet

  • Base your choices around your overall diet – how big a piece of your life is restaurant eating? If you go out once or twice a month, don’t stress too much about your choices. If you eat out a few times a week, you might want to be more intentional about your choices because they make up a much greater percentage of your overall diet.
  • Choose a vegetarian entree – this is certainly not your only option, but will often put you smack in the middle of Mediterranean Diet recommendations. Vegetarian entrees will usually have a plant-based source of protein, a grain or starch, and plenty of veggies. That checks most of the Mediterranean boxes!
  • If you’re planning to get alcohol, wine is a great way to go – other alcohols aren’t too prominent on the Mediterranean Diet, and wine in moderation (4 oz. or less per day for a woman, 8 oz.or less for a man) contains some heart protective antioxidant benefits.
  • At most restaurants, plan to eat half the plate – take the rest home or share with a friend. Eating the entire amount of a meat served at a restaurant is almost always going to be more than one serving. I found that if I ate primarily plant-based or seafood-based proteins at home, then I could choose whichever protein I wanted when eating out and still eat the leftovers the next day.
  • Let the oil go – one of the components of the Mediterranean Diet is incorporating primarily olive oil as your fat source. When you’re eating out, you rarely know what cooking oil is being used. You can ask, but most likely the answer is not olive. Either try to avoid dishes made with lots of oil (go for grilled, baked, or roasted) or just accept that you’re unlikely to be getting olive oil in this particular meal.



 

Mexican

Mexican food can actually be a really great cuisine to choose foods within Mediterranean guidelines. Plant-based proteins like beans are used widely in Mexican cuisine. Pair those with some brown rice or a corn tortilla, lettuce, fajita vegetables,and salsa and you’re good to go! Add fish if desired. Of course, feel free to go for white meat or red meat if you are eating those sparingly overall.

 

One day after church hubby had a hankering for the taco truck. The taco truck serves monstrous portions and their typical burritos are very heavy on rice, beans, and meat and very light on veggies. I opted for the bowl-rito (all the stuffins’ without the tortilla) which contained chicken, rice, beans, fajita vegetables, salsa, and avocado. I ate half and saved the rest for another day.

 

 

A week or so later I met a friend for lunch at Chipotle – she needed gluten-free, I needed veggies! I opted for basically the same meal as I got at the taco truck: chicken, brown rice, black beans, fajita veggies, corn salsa, pico de gallo, and lettuce. I ate half and brought the rest home.

 

 

Mediterranean

This seemed like a bit of a no-brainer…one of my favorite restaurants is The Bocatta in Centralia, WA which boasts delicious Mediterranean cuisine. Hubby and I were in the area at lunchtime and it was an obvious choice! Interestingly enough, most of the sandwich meats offered were processed, so I opted for the vegetarian eggplant marinara sandwich with a side of balsamic marinated mushrooms. It was DEE-LICIOUS. No leftovers this time.

 

 



 

Breakfast

 

I chose one of my favorite breakfasts at the local McMenamin’s Spar Cafe – huevos rancheros! The dish includes corn tortillas, eggs, black beans, pico de gallo, cheese, avocado, and hash browns. I ate half and took the other home!

 

 

Burger

On a date lunch my husband and I decided to go to Red Robin. I figured I would choose the veggie version of the burger I normally get – the Bleu Ribbon. Delicious blue cheese and fried onion straws (not exactly sure how those factor in to the Mediterranean Diet…probably not particularly included. Didn’t stop me.) However, Red Robin is now carrying the Impossible Burger. I had not tried this item yet but it is a plant-based burger patty that supposedly famous chefs are raving about as the most meat-like non-meat burger they’ve ever cooked or eaten. I definitely wanted to try it, more to review it than anything. Paired the burger with sweet potato fries – again, I ate half and took the rest home for later. Stay tuned for the Impossible Burger review coming up! The non-Mediterrean downside of this meal was the low vegetable content – a handful of shredded iceberg on the burger does not a vegetable serving make.

 

 



 

Indian

When we went to Indian food, I had already eaten a bit of chicken for the week (which is what I usually get when we go there), so I chose the vegetarian lunch option which contained chana masala (spiced chickpeas and vegetables), palaak paneer (spinach and goat cheese), salad, lentil dahl soup, naan bread, and a sweet rice pudding called kheer. This meal is HUGE and I always take leftovers home and usually get one or two more meals out of them.

 

 

Overall, it wasn’t too hard to eat out and meet the Mediterranean Diet recommendations. I will say, as is always the case with strict portion “limits” as found on the Mediterranean Diet pyramid, it did at times leave me feeling a bit disappointed when ordering, because I didn’t always order the food I really wanted. That being said, everything I ate was delicious and I thoroughly enjoyed it so I didn’t end up feeling restricted overall. If you are someone who really gets your kicks out of meat-based entrees or you aren’t a big fan of plant-based proteins, this could be tougher for you. A better approach might be to limit eating out overall or to really make a point to keep your animal protein portion reasonable and take the rest home for later.

 



 

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Mediterranean Diet

 

Monday was my last day following the Mediterranean Diet recommendations. My goals throughout this week were to work on increasing the variety of my plant-based proteins to deal with the boredom I was experiencing after the first two weeks. I also wanted to really try to make sure that I met my vegetable recommendations.

 

What Went Well

I met my goals! Instead of just beans and nuts this week, I incorporated tofu stir fry for lunch as well as hummus, tuna, and salmon throughout the week. It definitely helped with the boredom factor. I also managed to meet my veggie goals and actually met the recommendations each day individually, though I did end up eating one more serving of white meat in the whole week than I should have (gasp!).

Overall, following the eating pattern got easier as time went on. I was pleased to see that over the course of the 3 week experiment my grocery budget averaged the same as normal ($100 per week). The Mediterranean Diet, using a meal plan, was easily doable on a budget of $100 per week for four people. Eating a lot of plant-based proteins was actually a great way to save on groceries (and helped to balance out the cost of seafood).

Without specifically trying, I lost 2 lbs over the course of the 3 weeks on my normal level of activity (possibly a tiny bit less even in the third week). That is a normal, healthy rate of weight loss, so the evidence that the Mediterranean Diet can promote healthy weight loss was backed up in my case.

 



 

What Could Have Gone Better

While the variety of plant-based proteins helped, I still just came to the conclusion that I don’t enjoy most plant-based proteins as much as I enjoy chicken. I really didn’t miss beef and pork that much – I don’t think I really eat more than 1-2 servings of those per week normally, they aren’t really my thing. Chicken though, is a staple in my diet. While I do enjoy plant-based eating and I aim for it often, my biggest struggle over the three weeks was limiting my white meat intake to two servings per week.

That leads into one of my least favorite things about the Mediterranean Diet pyramid: the restrictions. For example, no more than 2 servings of sweets or 1 serving of processed meat per week.I’m a little torn because I am a type-A person who appreciates tracking and having concrete details and recommendations, but the psychology of restrictions still causes me to feel deprived and want more. That’s no way to live your food life! Skim the recommendations and use them as a guideline, but don’t stress if you eat a little outside them here and there. Eating more plant-based meals and fewer sweets than you do now is a great step, even if you don’t hit the exact limits on the Mediterranean Diet pyramid.

 



 

How I Did

  Mediterranean Diet Goal* Week #1 Week #2 Week #3
# of days nutrition recommendations met 7 5 4 7
Grains (daily average) 3-6 servings 4 servings 4.5 servings 4.5 servings
Potatoes (weekly) ≤3 servings 3 servings 2 servings 2 servings
Legumes (weekly) >2 servings 3 servings 9 servings 10 servings
Dairy (daily average) 2 servings 2 servings 2 servings 2 servings
Fruits (daily average) 2-6 servings 2.5 servings 5 servings 3.5 servings
Vegetables (daily average) 4-6 servings 3 servings 3 servings 4 servings
Olives/nuts/seeds (daily average) 1 serving 1 serving 1 serving 1 serving
Eggs (weekly) 2-4 servings 3 servings 3 servings 4 servings
Seafood (weekly) >2 servings 7 servings 4 servings 3 servings
Red meat (weekly) <2 servings 1 serving 1 serving 2 servings
White meat (weekly) 2 servings 2 servings 1 serving 3 servings
Processed meat (weekly) ≤1 serving 1 serving 1 serving 1 serving
Sweets (weekly) ≤2 servings 2 servings 2 servings 2 servings
Weight change   -1 lb 0 lb -1 lb
Grocery Budget Change   $0 -$33 +$35

 

Stay tuned for more posts about the Mediterranean Diet – we’ll talk about eating out, tips for making the Mediterranean Diet easier, and more!

 



 

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Mediterranean Diet

How to Meal plan on a Mediterranean Diet

 

Meal planning takes many forms depending on your lifestyle, budget, and personality. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a fully written-out meal plan. Some people prefer to plan only a couple of days in advance. Others prefer to buy groceries for a few different meals then have a bit more flexibility.

For the last two weeks I’ve been following a Mediterranean Diet (you can read more about it here). I’ve learned some tricks to make following this eating pattern a bit easier with meal planning. If you’re new to meal planning, first check out this post for my step-by-step instructions on making a meal plan. In today’s post, I’ll give you some ideas I’ve picked up in the last few weeks for meal planning on a Mediterranean Diet.

 

Keep Track

The Mediterranean diet pyramid has specific guidelines for how many servings of different items to eat per day or per week. When making a meal plan, it can be helpful to keep track of these groups (particularly the protein sources) to make sure you’re aiming in the right directions. I’ve created a free printable Mediterranean Diet checklist that you can download here to help. Even if you don’t follow these guidelines exactly (in fact, I’d recommend that you give yourself a little wiggle room), this checklist can keep you from straying too far from recommendations.

 

Leave yourself some flexibility

Some of the recommended serving amounts are quite limited (like 1 serving processed meat and 2 servings sweets per week). Because of that,  I find it helpful to plan for fewer servings than the recommendations allow. This gives you the opportunity to have flexibility throughout the week in different social situations (or if you’re just tuckered out). For example, I didn’t include processed meat in my weekly plan and I only included one serving each of red meat and chicken (2 each are allowed). This meant that if I ended up in a place where processed meat was on the menu (high school football game hot dog, anyone?), I had the opportunity to choose it. One day when my son scored his first job, we wanted to celebrate with some DQ blizzards, and since I didn’t build sweets into my meal plan, I indulged without having to go over, go without, or change my meal plan.

 



 

Plan around your life

Along those lines, check out your calendar when you’re making your meal plan. If you know that you’re going to be eating a soul dinner (hello, football game!), try to load the rest of your day with the nutritious foods you’re not likely to get there. On the Friday I knew I was headed to the game, I knew I would get nachos and a hot dog for dinner (not much in the way of veggies or fruit) so I had a veggie scramble for breakfast, plenty of salad with veggie soup for lunch, and a couple of fruits for snacks.

 

 

 

 

I tried to check all those boxes before I went to the game to make it easier to follow Mediterranean Diet recommendations while still enjoying my social life!

 

Work with Family Dinners

Even if you decide to aim for a Mediterranean Diet eating pattern, the people you eat with may or may not be on board to eat the same way. These differing preferences can be a struggle – family members or partners don’t always make healthy changes in the same ways or at the same paces. Try to work with this when making your meal plan. If there are meals where you won’t be eating with your family members (lunches are commonly eaten separately, for example), plan for those to include the protein sources that aren’t limited like seafood or legumes. Shared meals (often dinners) can use some of the more limited protein sources like chicken, pork, or beef that your family members would want to enjoy.

Another trick for meal planning with a family is to include a balance of what I call “combo dinners” and “compartment dinners.” Combo dinners are meals like casseroles or soups where everything is mixed together. These are the types of meals where it makes the most sense to use the limited proteins like chicken or beef. Compartment meals are meals where each item is separate (usually in a meat + starch + vegetable configuration). These are good opportunities to make yourself a different protein from the rest of your family. It’s helpful to choose one that can be prepared and cooked in the same way as the rest of your family’s meal. For example, if the meal is baked chicken with vegetables and mashed potatoes, simply bake enough chicken breasts for the rest of your family and on the same pan, bake yourself a fish fillet. You’re not making an entirely separate dinner, just giving yourself some flexibility to eat with your family and still meet Mediterranean Diet recommendations.

 



 

Hopefully these tips are helpful to you as you aim to improve your health! The key is to make changes gradually, never expect perfection, and work with your lifestyle and personality, not against them. You can do it!

 

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Mediterranean Diet