Republished with permission from Mohammed-reza Forouzesh
Ph.D., C.H.E.S Professor at Cal State Long Beach

In efforts to understand the Mediterranean diet, it is necessary to first learn about the many countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. The diet is closely tied geographically to areas of olive oil cultivation in the Mediterranean Basin. It can be defined by diets of the early 1960s in Greece, southern Italy and other Mediterranean regions in which olive oil was the principal source of dietary fat. The olive remains the most typical Mediterranean tree because it has adapted to the regional climate of long, very hot, dry summers and mild, damp winters.

The lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea contain some of the oldest cultures on Earth. Greece, as well as other countries of Europe, North Africa, and some Middle Eastern nations, played a central role in the expansion of empires and cross-cultural exchanges over the centuries.

the traditional foods of the Mediterranean, such as a variety of fruits and vegetables, has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease.

Over 2,000 years ago trade by means of sea routes allowed Greek, Roman, Phoenician, Carthaginian, Arab, and Oriental products and traditions to intermix, resulting in mutual enrichment and an evolution of what is now incorporated into the Mediterranean diet. However, many different diets exist throughout the Mediterranean region, and there is no such thing as just one Mediterranean diet. Variations of this diet have traditionally existed in the North African countries of Morocco and Tunisia, parts of Turkey, and other Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon and Syria.

The Mediterranean diet gained much recognition and worldwide interest in the 1990s as a model for healthful eating habits. The diet is based on the traditional dietary patterns of Crete, a Greek island, and other parts of Greece and southern Italy. The diet has become a popular area of study due to observations made in 1960 of low incidences of chronic disease and high life-expectancy rates attributed to the populations who consumed a traditional Mediterranean diet. This healthful diet model goes far beyond the use of particular ingredients and recipes. It attains its full meaning in the context of climate, geography, customs, and the way of life of Mediterranean peoples.

In the Mediterranean diet, not all fat is regarded as bad, however. In fact, the focus of the diet is not to limit total fat consumption, but rather to make wise choices about the type of fat in the diet. The Mediterranean diet is low in saturated fat, which is found mostly in meat and dairy products, vegetable oils such as coconut and palm oils (tropical oils), and butter. The diet views two types of protective fats, omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, as healthful and places no restrictions on their consumption. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish (e.g., sardines, salmon, tuna) and in some plant sources (e.g., pistachios, walnuts and other tree nuts, flaxseed, various vegetables). Monounsaturated fat is abundant in olive oil, nuts, and avocados.

the traditional foods of the Mediterranean, such as a variety of fruits and vegetables, has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease.

Because the Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating whole, natural foods, it is extremely low in trans-fatty acids, which are increasingly recognized as important contributors to heart disease. These fats are found in hard margarine and deep-fried and processed snacks and food, including fast food and commercially baked products. They are similar to saturated fats and are known to raise levels of LDL cholesterol. Eating a diet incorporating the traditional foods of the Mediterranean, such as a variety of fruits and vegetables, has been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease. Five important dietary factors may contribute to the car-dioprotective effect of this eating pattern. These are the inclusion of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, olive oil, nuts, and moderate amounts of alcohol, and the exclusion of transfatty acids.

Many common characteristics exist among the countries along the Mediterranean Basin, but each country has adapted to the geography and developed its own customs. The common core, however, can be seen in the diets of these countries. It is important to remember that the Mediterranean diet emphasizes eating whole, unprocessed foods that are extremely low in harmful LDL cholesterol. Recent studies indicate that the use of natural, monounsaturated oils such as olive oil, a balanced intake of vegetables and fish, and a low intake of red meats provides a natural defense against cardiovascular disease. Although more research is needed, the Mediterranean way of eating is potentially an ideal diet to improve the health of people by warding off illnesses.

Olive Oil in the Mediterranean Diet

The wide use of olive oil in food preparation throughout the Mediterranean region contributes to a diet high in monounsaturated fatty acids and cultures commonly known for lower blood pressure among their populations. Recent research has produced scientific proof that a Mediterranean diet (which includes olive oil) is not only generally healthful, but that consuming olive oil can actually help lower harmful low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (often referred to as “bad” cholesterol). Olive oil contains antioxidants that discourage artery clogging and chronic diseases, including cancer.

Be sure to check out Dede’s Top 10 Mediterranean Cooking Tips Below! You can get many of these products at DedeMed’s store

  • Oil
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Rice,Beans and Grains
  • Bulgur (Burghul) #1 and #2
  • Brown Rice , White Rice
  • Vermicelli Noodles
  • Dried Chick Peas
  • Dried Fava Beans
  • Spices
  • Sumac Spice
  • (7) Seven Spices
  • Acids
  • Lemons Juice
  • Vinegar
  • Canned / Jarred Goods
  • Canned Chick Peas
  • Canned Fava Beans
  • Canned Tomato Sauce
  • Jarred Grape Leaves
  • Cooking Tools
  • Falafel Mold
  • Kusa Pick

Top 10 Mediterranean Cooking Tips

  1. Keep a diverse spice rack- There are so many different spices in this world, but if you want to be well prepared for Mediterranean food here are the spices you need to keep on hand: 7 spices, Sumac, Paprika, Cumin, Cinnamon and last but not least black pepper. I feel that these are most important only because you can use them in so many different ways, with meats or vegetables and they add a world of flavor. These spices can be found at your local grocery store or at the store
  2. Use a good extra virgin olive oil- Olive oil is so important, I use it in almost all of my dishes so that’s why it’s important that you use the most flavorful brand. It is also a very healthy fat that is good for your skin and hair. I prefer Greek or Italian Extra Virgin Olive oil, check out your grocery store and each time buy a different brand until you find the flavor that you like. Try it with a plain piece of bread and if you find the smooth flavor of olives coming through, then you’ve found the one!
  3. Garlic, Garlic, Garlic!- Garlic is so amazing and is so healthy. It can be used as an antibiotic, antioxidant, lowers cholesterol, heal bug bites and so much more. But most important, it adds so much flavor to food! It tastes great raw, fried, minced, baked…and each different way produces a different garlic flavor. Don’t be afraid of it and always keep it on hand. The bad breath is a small price to pay for the great flavor it adds to food, just keep some fresh mint on hand to eat after wards.
  4. Keep a good food processor on hand- A good food processor is very important b/c I use it to often with my dishes, you can use to make hummus, falafel, garlic sauce, soup, kibbeh and so many more dishes. You want one that preferably has a warranty, I like Cuisinart b/c it has a 20 year warranty and I feel reassured that I can use it for so many things without breaking it.
  5. Explore the Garbanzo bean- Garbanzo beans or chick peas, as they are sometimes known, are a great bean to work with. You can buy it dried or canned. It is so versatile b/c you can use it to make hummus, or in a falafel veggie patty or even in salads. It is a great source of fiber and protein so it’s great for vegetarians too. And you can keep it in your pantry for a long time in both forms.
  6. Make sure you have all the tools or make your own- There are a lot of different tools you can use in the kitchen for Mediterranean cooking but the good thing is that if you don’t have these tools you can use an alternative which I give you in all of my videos or you can buy them on my store page.
  7. Get to know your butcher- Beef, lamb, chicken, fish are all wonderful ingredients but you want to make sure you are using the correct cut and freshest meat in your dishes. Your butcher is the one to help you do this. He can help you pick a cut of meat or suggest which one to use for what you want to make. It’s also a good idea to have him package it in the quantity sizes that you need. I have mine divide my meat into 1lb or 2lb bags, that way I don’t cook to much or to little.
  8. Plan your menu ahead- Planning is always a good way to go, especially if you want to use fresh ingredients. If you plan your menu ahead, or at least have an idea of what you want to make that week, then you can buy fresh ingredients for your dishes. Always try to use fresh when you can, it’s healthier and the veggies have more flavor.
  9. Always keep hummus on hand- I know this sounds weird but HUMMUS is so versatile. You can use it as a quick appetizer for surprise guests, you can use it in a sandwich, you can use it as a side dish, you can eat it as a healthy snack. There are so many times you can eat hummus, you can eat it at pretty much any meal. But what’s also great is that you can add so many different things to it to create new flavors, try olives, basil, sun dried tomatoes, roasted red pepper, cilantro, jalapeno, artichokes, parmasean cheese and the list goes on. What’s great is that it keeps in the refrigerator for up to 1 week so you can make it one day and eat it all week long.
  10. Mark as a favorite- What better website to keep on hand for Mediterranean cooking than the #1 Mediterranean site online. Each recipe is written out with a video recipe showing you how to make it. All the recipes are quick and easy and if you still don’t get it, you can email Dede and she’ll be more than happy to help you out.