Switching to a Mediterranean Diet

My family faced some scary days early in 2020. In January I received a text message from my step-mother informing us that they were taking my father to the hospital because they suspected that he was having a heart attack. And he was. It was his second. There were definitely some frightening moments for him and for us when his blood pressure fell far too low on more than one occassion. They ultimately put in a pacemaker, which is now helping his heart to beat normally.

As I was sitting with family members in the waiting room, we were discussing just how many members of my extended family had had heart attacks and had pacemakers put in. I was honestly shocked! Plus we’ve had a whole lot of cancer on my Mom’s side of the family as well. In fact, it was cancer that took my Mom from us in 2014. Her father died from cancer as well.

As I really began to think about how many people I know that have faced heart disease, heart attacks, cancer and other very serious medical issues, one thing kept coming to my mind….THIS ISN’T NORMAL!

There has been a huge increase in people struggling with significant health issues in recent decades. And the number of people who are struggling with serious, potentially life threatening health issues seems to be growing each year. Americans are becoming more and more unhealthy. And their struggling with illnesses that are for the most part, preventable with diet and lifestyle changes.

My Dad’s time in the hospital was a huge wakeup call for me!

I’ve certainly struggled with weight and other issues like allergies and GERD since I was in my teens. And I just turned the big 50 in September of 2019! My father had his first heart attack at the age of 48, two years younger than I am now.  I made the move to cooking from scratch and eating real, whole foods just before I started Simple Clean Living back in 2011.

And while that was healthier than eating a diet of highly processed foods, it was still not as healthy as it should be. If you look back at many of my early recipes you will see a whole lot of recipes that call for sucanat or turbinado sugar. While those may have more nutrients than white sugar, it’s not the best option when you are struggling with health issues.

If you have a diet filled with lots of refined sugar, then you most likely have inflammation in your body. Now, inflammation itself is not a bad thing. It’s the body’s natural way to promote healing. But if you’re consuming a large amount of foods that are prompting this healing mechanism to kick in, then perhaps it’s a sign that eating too much of that food is damaging to the body. Chronic inflammation is not a good thing!

We do need some sugar to help provide energy for the cells in our body. But most people are consuming far more sugar than the body needs. Not only does this prompt the body to react by creating inflammation, but it also causes blood sugar instability. To make matters even worse, eating a diet high in sugar also contributes to hormone imbalances, heart disease and may even play a part in fueling cancer growth.

The Mediterranean diet

As I learned more about heart disease and the dietary changes that can actually benefit and improve heart health, I got downright motivated to change how I eat even further! I realized that I couldn’t continue to eat the “clean” way that I had been eating for the last 8 years and that I really needed to make further changes. Of course, experts recommend the Mediterranean diet as being one of the heart healthiest ways to eat.

And honestly, it’s not terribly different than what I had already been doing. But there are some changes that I’ve had to make. And when it comes to the Mediterannean diet, most people think of food from Italy and Greece. But the Mediterannean includes far more countries than just those two. So the options for foods that are tasty and healthy are plentiful.

What should you include when switching to a Mediterranean diet?

Eat plenty of:

  • vegetables and fruits
  • nuts and seeds
  • legumes
  • potatoes
  • whole grains (including whole grain bread)
  • herbs and spices
  • seafood
  • olives
  • extra virgin olive oil

Eat in moderation:

  • eggs
  • dairy (including yogurt and cheese)
  • poultry

Eat rarely:

  • red meat

This diet has a stronger emphasis on eating plants and doesn’t fully rely on eating large amounts of meat. Many of the Mediterannean countries also include fermented foods in their diet. And many countries use sourdough to make their breads, flatbreads and crackers. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics and can help boost gut health. Sourdough is easier to digest and some people who have gluten intolerances have found that they can eat homemade sourdough without problems.

This diet is also naturally lower in salt. Most Americans eat a very high amount of added salt.

Of course, when changing to a Mediterranean diet there are foods that should be avoided. Here are the foods you should be thinking twice about consuming.

Foods to avoid:

  • added sugar- soft drinks, candy, cookies, cakes and pastries, table sugar. It’s important to read labels because sugar is added to so many products!
  • factory processed foods- so many of these are devoid of nutrients and yet high in added sugar, salt and chemicals.
  • trans fat- this is found in margarine and in other highly processed foods.
  • processed oils-vegetable oil, soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, corn oil, sunflower and safflower oils all should be avoided. They have been show in studies to increase inflammation which we know is a contributor to heart disease.
  • Processed meat- lunchmeat, sausage, bacon.

I significantly decreased my intake of added sugars and increased my intake of plant based foods. I’ve also reduced the amount of red meat I’m eating. And without trying, I’ve actually had days where I ate primarily vegetarian all day. I don’t plan on becoming a vegetarian because sometimes my body just needs a little meat.

I’ve also make a couple little additions to how I’m eating. I’ve also included avocado oil which is also rich in monounsaturated fats, like olive oil. Both are very heart healthy. My other small concession is allowing 1/2 to 1 oz of dark chocolate a day, though honestly, I only really eat that a couple of times a week….which as a self-described chocoholic, I would’ve never done before!

Here’s what I’ve noticed so far…

  1.  I actually went through a sugar withdrawal. It was pretty yucky actually. It zapped my energy and left me pretty cranky too! Scientists have concluded that sugar has an impact on the brain in the same way that certain drugs do.
  2. Even though I went through the sugar withdrawal, I did not have any intense sugar cravings. I was fine eating 1-2 servings of fruit a day.
  3. Now that the sugar detox is past, I’m starting to have better energy each day
  4. I’m sleeping well each night
  5. I’ve naturally been losing weight and it’s melting off!
  6. Now if I eat something that’s highly processed, my body doesn’t respond very well. I’ve only eaten something once and my gut was NOT happy with me. It’s just not worth it to eat crappy food anymore.

Now, I did not start eating differently for weight loss. This really has been about overall health, especially heart health! But having the weight loss is a definite health bonus!

When I looked at updating my eating further, I wasn’t looking for a diet. I needed to be realistic and look for something that could be a permanent lifestyle change. I wanted something that was doable and easy to stick with. So far, this way of eating has been pretty easy to maintain.

Of course, I’ll be adding tons of Mediterranean friendly recipes in the future! And I plan on making over some of the older recipes on the site. Be sure to stayed tune as I share my own journey!

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