A complete lifestyle change is dramatically different than a standard diet plan. It is also the key ingredient to the success of the Mediterranean lifestyle.
The Mediterranean diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, whole grains, and healthy fats, especially olive oil. Red meat and sweets are scarce. According to the American Society for Nutrition, the diet improves a person’s health by helping reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol and stroke.
But the Mediterranean diet, combined with lifestyle changes, can help people live longer and be less likely to gain unwanted weight. The website endocrineweb.com, a respected site addressing endocrine system conditions, described the Mediterranean diet as more of an approach to eating than a specific diet plan.
Count Sean Small, the City of Houston’s HR public health education chief and wellness director, as an advocate.
“Studies suggest that adhering to the Mediterranean diet can help prolong your life, even if you are already 65 or older,” Small said.
Small added that people’s metabolism and activity decrease as we age.
“It’s important to keep in mind that consuming foods lower in saturated fats and calories while increasing consumption of fruits, vegetables and fiber can reduce weight gain,” he said.
Lucille Anderson endorses the Mediterranean plan too, although she doesn’t really distinguish between diet and lifestyle terminology. Anderson, a senior assistant city attorney in the general litigation section of the Houston Legal Department, said she adopted the diet and lifestyle when she lived abroad.
“I spent the summer of 1989 studying art in Todi, Italy, after college graduation,” she said. “My art school was based in a medieval monastery and the chef prepared meals daily from the monks’ vegetable garden and the local farmer’s market.
“The director of my school enthusiastically told me that you can eat as much of this food as you want and never gain weight. I have been a big fan of true Italian cuisine ever since,” she said.
Anderson then lived in New York for three years. Her budget was lean and vegetarian meal options were plentiful and cost-effective, she said.
“The cost of the vegetarian plate at the law firm cafeteria — I had a part-time job there at night — was substantially lower than the other meal choices, something like $1.70 vs. $10 or $12 per plate,” Anderson said. “So, part of my decision to choose vegetarian was a cost-based decision. But even then, I consistently chose fish over meat and avoided fatty or fried foods.”
When she’s not at work, Anderson competes in road races. She makes it a point to run at least three miles and lift weights every weekend.
“I have a lot of room for improvement during the work week, but I would like to get back to a three- to four-days-a-week routine once my children start driving themselves to their various after-school sports and other activities,” she said.
Anderson largely attributes her adherence to the Mediterranean diet to her overall good health.
“I notice that I do not feel well when I occasionally eat added sugars or refined grains,” she said.
Finding fresh ingredients to maintain the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle is easier in large and diverse Houston, Anderson said.
“In certain parts of the country, it is hard to find fresh seafood and vegetables. My three years in rural Virginia after New York were particularly challenging in that regard,” she said.
Nowadays, the only challenges she has involves meals at certain outings and events.
“The only challenge I have had involves the occasional banquet meal where the entrée is red meat. If the banquet meal is shrimp and filet mignon, I will trade my filet mignon for my husband’s shrimp and he is happy to oblige my preference,” she said.
While Anderson advocates the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, she said she’s had trouble convincing certain family members of the benefits.
“My parents still don’t understand why I won’t eat a hamburger, but my husband and children know that all meals in our house are not complete without vegetables, extra virgin olive oil and spices, and that seafood will be served at dinner one to two times per week,” she said.
“If my husband and children want a roast beef sandwich or a hamburger, they can have one at a restaurant on the weekend, but they know I will be ordering something else.”
Anderson said a key thing to remember about the Mediterranean diet is that it is packed with essential nutrients and readily available in Houston.
“We are very fortunate to live in a city in which making consistently healthy eating choices is quite possible. Everything in moderation is a key part of the Italian approach to a Mediterranean diet. Americans can tend to overdo it, so with any diet or lifestyle choice, taking it easy is a good approach,” she said.