Go Mediterranean

The Mediterranean diet is a way of life, not just a diet with a multitude of health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease, lower levels of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol, and reduced incidence of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.  The Mediterranean diet incorporates food patterns, cooking styles, and cultural traditions of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.  For example, the people of Greece typically consume a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and eat very little red meat, which highlights the emphasis on plant-based foods.  The following steps will help you make the switch to this delicious and healthy way of eating.

Eat primarily plant-based foods.  Focus on an abundance and variety of fruits and vegetables when planning meals, and aim for 7 – 10 servings daily.    

Choose whole grains, like brown rice, farro, whole wheat breads and pastas, oats, barley, and more.  The first ingredient should be whole.

Add legumes (beans), which are full of fiber.

Focus on unsaturated fats.  It is not about limiting total fat intake, but instead choosing “healthy” fats.  Extra virgin olive oil, which is a monounsaturated fat, is the primary fat used in the Mediterranean diet.  Nuts and seeds are also prevalent.  Try a handful as a snack or toasted with vegetables.  Natural nut butter and tahini are spreadable options. 

Flavor foods with herbs and spices rather than salt.       

Limit lean red meat to a few times a month and watch portions (a deck of cards size at a time).  Replace red meats with fish (not fried), which are a big part of the Mediterranean diet, eaten at least once or twice a week. 

Make meals social.  Enjoy food with friends and family.  Sharing a meal and connecting with others is ingrained in Mediterranean culture. 

Slow down.  Take time to enjoy the food and atmosphere. 

Engage in daily physical activity. 

Wine is also a part of mealtime in moderation (no more than 5 ounces per day for women and 10 ounces for men), but if you do not currently drink alcohol, it is not necessary to start. 

The best way to celebrate this month is to embrace the Mediterranean diet, a philosophy of eating with true appreciation and respect for ingredients.  One way to do that is the Mediterranean Diet Challenge hosted by Oldways, a food and nutrition nonprofit supporting cultural food traditions (  Discover the flavors of the Mediterranean and be sure to share them with others. 

Let the following menu be your guide to a Mediterranean style diet.


  • Cooked Plain Oatmeal
  • Nuts or Seeds
  • Berries

Snack:  Apple and Natural Peanut or Almond Butter


  • fresh spinach and vegetable salad
  • canned wild salmon or tuna
  • olive oil
  • avocado
  • beans  

Snack:  nuts, air popped popcorn, vegetables dipped in hummus, or roasted chickpeas


  • fish
  • sweet potato or cooked barley, farro, bulgur, quinoa, brown rice or other whole grain
  • Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, peppers, eggplant, onions sautéed in garlic and olive oil
  • low fat plain Greek yogurt with berries

A Win For Fast Food? . . . Sort Of!

Fast food restaurants have long been criticized for their contribution to the obesity epidemic.  I mean, according to a survey compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics, 36% of adults eat fast food daily, and the excessive calorie counts are now posted on the menu.  But, have you ever thought about the meals at your favorite local or chain restaurant?  Recent research published in the journal BMJ did just that, and you will be surprised to find out that many of the meals at chains and local restaurants worldwide are worse for you than fast food.  Public Health England, the UK’s health agency, recommends no more than 600 calories per meal although some experts argue for an 800-calorie maximum.  Unfortunately, meals average 1,362 calories in full service restaurants in the United States as opposed to 969 calories in U.S. fast food establishments.  Although both dramatically exceed the daily recommendation, fast food restaurants average 33% fewer calories than full service eateries.  94% of the meals at sit down restaurants exceed the recommended limit.  Say what?  CNN reported that the Bistro Shrimp Pasta at the Cheesecake Factory is equivalent to 5 ½ Big Macs with 3,120 calories (1 ½ days-worth), 89 grams of saturated fat, and 1,090 mg. of sodium.  With their Breakfast Burrito and Chicken Parmesan “Pizza Style”, the Cheesecake Factory also snagged 2 out of 8 of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Xtreme Eating Awards in 2018, which is a list of restaurant meals with a day’s worth of calories and a day’s worth saturated fat, sodium, and/or added sugar.  This is not a good list to be on to say the least.  CSPI equated the Cheesecake Factory Breakfast Burrito to eating seven McDonalds Sausage McMuffins.  Chili’s Restaurant made the list as well with its Honey Chipotle Crispers and Waffles (2,510 calories, 40 grams of saturated fat, 4,480 mg of sodium, and 105 grams of added sugar), which CSPI equated to eating 5 Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts smothered in 30 McDonalds Chicken McNuggets and 5 packets of barbecue sauce.  To put all of this in perspective, the recommended daily intake is 2,000 calories, less than 20 grams of saturated fat, 2,300 mg of sodium or less, and 50 grams of added sugar or less.  Needless to say, cooking at home is the best option, but the food industry should take some responsibility for making healthy eating easier when dining out.  Until then, if the calories are not listed, the key is menu wording.  The following words on the menu indicate higher calorie items.

Creamy or Cream Sauce

Battered or Breaded

Crispy, Fried, or Tempura

Con Queso

Au Gratin


Knowing what to look for makes choosing a healthier option easier.  Always ask what sides are served with your dish, and try to replace things like fries with vegetables, like salad.  You are more likely to eat something if it is sitting on the plate in front of you.  Adjust your order and customize your sides.  Hopefully more restaurants will soon offer half portions, which would bring meals closer to the daily recommendations.  

Food Rescue

We all make many daily decisions about food, whether it is packing lunch, planning dinner, fueling for exercise, or grabbing a quick snack.  Each decision makes a difference for health, budget, and the environment.  March is National Nutrition Month and the 2018 theme “Go Further With Food” encourages planning to reduce food loss and waste.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one third of all food grown is lost or wasted worldwide, and much of that waste occurs in the United States where about 40% of all food goes uneaten every year.  This is equivalent to approximately 60 million tons of produce worth $160 billion.  In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, wasted food takes up the most space in American landfills.  It is estimated that only 3% of discarded food in the United States is composted.  Sadly, some of this waste is about aesthetics.  People don’t want to buy “ugly” fruits and vegetables.  That is, if they even reach the grocery stores.  Much of the produce is left to decay in the fields or removed post-harvest for not meeting cosmetic standards.  After making it past harvest, foods risk being discarded by grocery stores, foodservice, restaurants, and households.  All of this waste adds up.  Thousands of pounds of food are thrown away due to low demand, food past the “sell by” date that is still safe and edible, or aesthetics.  On a positive note, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank program, Retail Rescue connects local and national retailers with its member agencies to turn “food waste” into donations.  This and other programs like it deserve to be celebrated.  According to the USDA, 12.8% of Rhode Islander’s (more that 56,000 households) and 13% of the U.S. (16.3 million households) are food insecure, which means that they often do not know where their next meal will come from.  Being part of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center team, this is close to my heart.  My LivFit program there is designed to help people turn pantry staples into healthy meals for their families with nutrition education and cooking instruction.  The program is free and open to all of Newport County.  The best way to become a part of the solution is to reduce food waste by planning meals, using leftovers creatively, composting, and donating to your local food pantry.  


Recent research has revealed the many health benefits of nuts.  Eating nuts has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and aid in weight loss.  With their fiber and protein content, nuts help to satisfy hunger.  They are also a great source of minerals, healthy unsaturated fats, and other health promoting nutrients.  Try all of the following nuts for optimal health.

  • Walnuts:  Omega 3 Fatty Acids (essential fats that protect the heart, improve cognitive function, and provide anti-inflammatory benefits)

                 Ellagic Acid (fights cancer and supports the immune system)

                 16 Polyphenols (have powerful antioxidant activity)

                 Copper, Magnesium

  • Almonds:  Heart Healthy Monounsatuated Fat

                 Vitamin E and Selenium (antioxidants)

                 Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Manganese, Copper

  • Pecans:  Heart Healthy Monounsaturated Fat

                 Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Folic Acid, Calcium, Magnesium, Copper, Phosphorus,     

                 Potassium,  Manganese, Several B Vitamins

  • Peanuts:  A peanut is actually a legume (bean), but is typically grouped with nuts.

                 Heart Healthy Monounsaturated Fat

                 Folate, Iron, Niacin, Magnesium

  • Cashews:  Heart Healthy Monounsaturated Fat

                 Copper, Magnesium, Zinc, Iron, Biotin

  • Pistachios:  Heart Healthy Monounsaturated Fat

                 Potassium, Vitamin B6, Magnesium

  • Brazil Nuts:  Heart Healthy Monounsaturated Fat

                 Copper, Niacin, Magnesium, Vitamin E, Selenium

  • Macadamia Nuts:  Heart Healthy Monounsaturated Fat

                  Potassium, Magnesium

The two nuts that emerge as leaders for overall health and nutrition are walnuts and almonds.  Eating a variety of nuts is the best way to optimize your health benefits.  Since nuts are highly concentrated in both calories and nutrients, a small amount goes a long way.  When it comes to nuts, moderation is key.  Keep nuts on hand for a delicious and satisfying snack.

Beans, Beans They're Good For Your Heart . . .

Most people have a can or bag of beans somewhere in their pantry.  Now is the time to be creative with them.  A popular ingredient in chili and soups, beans versatility doesn’t stop there.  They can be added to salads and stir fries and can even be used whole, mashed, or pureed as a side dish.  With all of their health benefits, beans are a great addition to any diet.  Take a look at what they have to offer.

·         Energy:  With 30 – 40 grams of slow burning complex carbohydrates per cup, beans help maintain and improve energy levels.  Beans also help to replenish iron stores.  Iron is part of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all of the cells in the body.  Therefore, iron is important for energy production and metabolism.  Beans are a good source of the B vitamin Thiamin, which participates in energy production by converting food to fuel.

·         Protein:  Beans provide protein to build and maintain muscle.  Grains, like brown rice or whole wheat bread, and beans are complementary proteins.  Alone, they are missing some of the essential amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, but together, they form a complete protein. 

·         Intestinal Health:  A cup of cooked beans provides 50 % of the Recommended Daily Intake for fiber.  Because of their fiber content, beans help prevent constipation as well as digestive disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis.

·         Heart Health:  Beans contain soluble fiber, which lowers cholesterol levels by removing it from the body.  Folate, a B vitamin found in beans, help break down homocysteine, an amino acid that in high amounts can lead to blood vessel damage, increasing the risk for heart attack, stroke, or peripheral vascular disease.  Beans also contain significant amounts of magnesium, which has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

·         Cancer Prevention:  The skin of beans contains phytochemicals that help prevent cancer.  Studies have shown that eating beans four times per week reduces the risk of colon cancer. 

·         Blood Sugar Control:  The fiber in beans helps stabilize blood sugar levels, which makes beans a great choice for people with diabetes, insulin resistance, or hypoglycemia.

Canned versus Dried Beans:  The Pros and Cons


·         Cost:  40 cents or less per serving

·         Nutrition:  High in sodium with up to 800 mg per serving.  Try low sodium versions, and strain and rinse beans before use.

·         Convenience:  Ready to use in recipes.


·         Cost:  20 cents per serving

·         Nutrition:  Sodium free and slightly higher in fiber, iron, and folate than canned.

·         Convenience:  Most beans must be soaked and boiled for hours.

Try including beans in your next dish.  You may be surprised by the great flavor and texture they provide.

De-Stress Your Table for a Healthy Weight

In addition to food and beverage choices, environment can have a major impact on healthy eating.   The following ideas will help you improve your dining experience to stay slim.

·         Eliminate distractions by turning off the computer, television, and cell phones during meals.  Play soft, soothing music instead, and dine quietly and slowly.  Making mealtime a relaxing experience aids digestion.

·         Set the table so that it looks appealing.  This makes dinner a special, enjoyable time.

·         Fill your glass (with water that is).  Drinking two cups of water before meals has been shown to promote weight loss.  Make water your beverage of choice before and during meals.

·         Have positive conversation and avoid negative comments and arguments.  Savor each bite and enjoy each other’s company. 

·         Have only the vegetable serving dish on the table during meals.  Keep all other serving dishes away from the table.  Better yet, refrigerate any leftovers after each person fills his/her plate. 

·         Use smaller plates and utensils.  Smaller plates mean smaller portions.  Average plate size has increased from 9 to 14 inches over the past 50 years.  Today’s typical American dinner plate used to be the serving “platter” for a family dinner.  Try using the larger plate for salads and vegetables and the salad plate for proteins and carbohydrates.  The same is true for utensils.  By using smaller utensils, you will take smaller bites, which leads to slower eating and allows time for your body to register feelings of fullness.

Stay Healthy Together

Stay healthy as a family by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet.  Follow the guidelines below to get started. 

Eat A Rainbow every day.  Make colorful eating a game by having each family member track the colors that they eat during the day.  This makes nutrition fun and motivates everyone to eat fruits and vegetables.  A little healthy competition doesn’t hurt either.  Add a fun prize (not food) for the person with the most colorful diet.

Involve the entire family in meal planning and preparation.  Kids are more likely to try something if they helped make it.  This is a great way to introduce new foods and make them exciting. 

Snack healthy.  Fresh fruits and vegetables make great snacks, especially when served with a tasty dip, like hummus, peanut butter, or yogurt. 

Eat together.  Family meals are important for development.  Not only do they promote healthy eating habits and decrease the risk of obesity but they also improve social behaviors. 

Play together.  Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity daily.  Playing counts so get out there and play in the leaves.    

Keep your family fit and healthy through the fall by making nutrition and exercise accessible and exciting.



"My favorite aspect of my job is that I help people improve their lives.  It is truly fulfilling to see a client succeed and lead a healthier lifestyle. Don't Diet! EAT HEALTHY, LIVE HAPPY!"

                                                                                 -Yours In Health,

                                                                                   Kristin Niessink MS,RD,LDN

                                                                                   Phone: (401) 368-7614