The World's Healthiest Diet

The more doctors test it, the more they find that eating Mediterranean is the absolute best way to lose weight. Based on the cooking and eating styles of Italy, France, Greece, Spain, and other Mediterranean countries, the plan features olive oil, fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish and poultry, whole grains and, yes, wine! It's high in heart-healthy fats and, unlike other diets, doesn't forbid any food group. "It's hard to stay on extreme diets," says Harvard nutrition expert Walter Willett, MD, PhD, whose book Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy popularized the approach in the United States. "This diet has lots of variety and wonderful flavors so people stick with it."
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What You Get to Eat (and Drink)

Fruits and vegetables: Get your fill of antioxidant-rich choices, which promote heart health. Make a dinner of a green leafy salad tossed with red pepper, chunks of chicken breast, and sunflower seeds. Or have a frozen-fruit smoothie for dessert (blend frozen mangoes, strawberries, or bananas with low-fat yogurt or milk).

How much: 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of veggies per day.

Fish: To get protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, replace at least two meat meals each week with fish or other seafood. Healthiest prep: poaching, broiling, grilling, or sauteing in olive or canola oil. Children and pregnant or nursing women should be especially careful to eat fish that's low in mercury (find out more at epa.gov).

How much: At least two 3-ounce servings a week.

Beans: All varieties are excellent sources of low-fat protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Include kidney, black, red, fava, garbanzo, cannellini, or any other type in soups, salads, stews, lasagna, or casseroles; or mash with herbs and spices as a dip for vegetables.

How much: 1/2 to 2/3 cup cooked beans at least three times a week.

Herbs and spices: Oregano, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, basil, anise, garlic, and pepper not only add Mediterranean flavor, they also contain healthy antioxidants. "Just half a teaspoon of dried oregano has as many antioxidants as 3 cups of spinach," says dietitian Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD.

How much: Use liberally, to taste, at every meal.

Nuts and seeds: They're high in antioxidants and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which have a steadying effect on blood sugar and keep you feeling full. Since they're also high in calories, combine with other foods, for example, by serving almonds with steamed veggies and walnuts with oatmeal.

How much: 1 to 1 1/2 ounces daily.

Healthy oils: The monounsaturated fats in olive and other healthy oils like canola, sesame, walnut, peanut, and grapeseed are good for your heart. Since 1 tablespoon has 120 calories, sprinkle -- don't pour -- over salads, grilled veggies, and whole-grain pasta or bread.

How much: 3 to 5 teaspoons daily.

Whole grains: They contain more vitamins, minerals, and protein than white-flour products and have a stabilizing influence on blood-sugar levels. Experiment with nutrient-dense, nutty-tasting exotic whole grains such as barley, amaranth, quinoa, and faro. But watch your intake: One cup of cereal equals two servings, as do two slices of pumpernickel bread.

How much: Four 1/2-cup servings daily.

Wine: It's a Mediterranean diet staple to have a glass (particularly red) with meals. In moderation, alcohol of any kind may help reduce heart disease risk. "But if you don't drink, don't worry," says Dr. Bazilian. "Alcohol isn't the diet's main healthy factor."

How much: Moderation for women means one glass of wine or one cocktail daily; more raises your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and breast cancer.

Continued on page 2:  6 Reasons to Try It

 

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