Flourish with Food: The Med Approach to Meat & Sweets

Last month, Flourish with Food focused on the Mediterranean Diet (Med approach). It’s important to remember…. it’s an overall healthy way of eating that reflects the common eating pattern of people living in the Mediterranean region.   

Oldways, a food and nutrition nonprofit, created the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid for visual guidance on the region’s foods and how often they’re eaten.  

The pyramid’s foundation includes vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and healthy fats. These core foods are encouraged to be eaten daily.  Meats and sweets are at the tippy top of the pyramid.

Meats and sweets are eaten less often or sometimes.  How does one quantify less often and sometimes?  A good question for which there is no easy answer.  The place to begin is a personal reflection on how often a food is eaten, considering all meals and snacks in a usual week. Secondly, reflect on the amount eaten. The how often and how much exercise.

Let’s look at meat first.  For clarity, meat includes beef, pork and lamb. If eaten 3-4 times a week, less often can mean 1-2 times a week. A cooked portion is “small”, 3 ounces or less (size of typical chicken thigh). Lean cuts of meat are common. While heart healthy lean meats may be more expensive, a small amount goes further, reducing the actual cost per portion.

Meat can add a unique flavor to foods.  Rather than being the center of the meal, rethink meat as a flavoring ingredient or even a garnish:  few thin slices of lean beef on an entrée salad; small amount of diced meat in bean soup, casseroles, stir fry, vegetable side or cold pasta salad. 

Few ideas to reduce meat:  

  1. Use ½ the listed amount of meat in a recipe.
  2. Build shish kebabs with mostly vegetables. 
  3. Add as a minor ingredient to pasta sauce bulked up with mushrooms.

Other ways to think of meat: (1) as a treat reserved for special occasions, (2) as a minor addition on a plate smothered with foundation foods, and (3) as a dinner choice, going vegetarian at breakfast and lunch.

Let’s now look at sweets. Rare is the person who prefers savory or salty over sweet.  Most people enjoy sugar-rich sweets, especially cookies, ice cream, chocolates, danish, cake, etc.  

As with meat, think about how often and how much. It may be purposeful to reflect on how often sweets are eaten throughout the day, as opposed to weekly.  Then how much…. number and size of cookies or size of the bowl of ice cream.  Where are you willing to cut back? Set a how often goal, such as 1-3 times a week or for special occasions only.

Calming a preference for sweets can be challenging. Think fruit. Most fruits are naturally sweet, especially dates, fresh figs, pears, red grapes and pineapple.  Dried fruits, such as apricots, raisins and cherries, are very Mediterranean. Frozen fresh grapes and pineapple chunks are refreshing.

Here’s a few ways to enhance the fruit-as-a-sweet experience:

  1. Core an apple ½ way down. Sprinkle in chopped nuts, cinnamon and touch of lemon. Bake at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes.  Cook several for later.
  2. Sprinkle pineapple slices with cinnamon and allspice. Lightly brown on a nonstick grill for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Top mixed fruit salad with plain or vanilla yogurt, a swirl of honey and/or sprinkle of coconut.
  4. Dip dried or firm fresh fruit in melted chocolate or chocolate sauce.

Berry “Fro-Yo”:  In a food processor or blender, add 1 cup frozen mixed berries, ½ c. vanilla Greek yogurt and 1 tsp honey.  Pulse until well blended.  Enjoy with a spoon.

About Mary Lynne Hixson, MA, RD:

Mary Lynne, a registered dietitian, helps others enhance their health through the advocacy of nutrient-rich food choices and safe food-handling practices. Her expertise also includes counseling patients who have Type 2 diabetes and advising those who are in medically managed weight loss programs. After her 35+ year career, she retired and became involved with the launch of Harvest of Hope Pantry in 2012 as a Board of Directors member. Mary Lynne is a weekly volunteer with Cultivate’s Carry-Out Caravan program, shopping and delivering groceries to seniors in the Boulder area, and also a frequent volunteer with Harvest of Hope.