Food pie chart on white background, top view. Healthy balanced diet

A good diet is an essential part of your healthy lifestyle – and I mean good and tasty, too. It may sound a little bit ridiculous, but most Americans really don’t understand what a good diet is. And that may be part of the reason we’re so susceptible to food fads and diet crazes.

Here’s just one example that I call the Protein Myth. For decades, Americans have been told they need to eat meat or dairy products at every meal in order to get the proper amount of protein. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Grains, nuts, seeds, most vegetables, and even many fruits contain protein. If you eat those foods – fresh and unprocessed of course – you’ll get more than enough protein. And that doesn’t even include dairy products, fish or chicken, which are all very high in protein.

How Do We Get These Lopsided Notions?

Dairy products… red meat… and more health-threatening foods have muscled their way onto the pyramid not because of your health but because the cattle and dairy lobby groups wield so much power in the federal government. So you and I, and our kids, end up with government “education” on nutrition that helps perpetuate the poor diet that many Americans eat. Consequently, a lot of people fall prey to kooky, radical diets. (One that’s popular now is that you should eat NO fat – nonsense)!

The Mediterranean Pyramid

I want to applaud the work of nutritionists who didn’t want folks to swallow the USDA recommendations, so they came up with their own based on the traditional Mediterranean diet. In fact it’s been recently revised – you can find it on the Harvard research website: You might find this pyramid helpful in determining what mix of foods you should eat over the course of a month.

The Mediterranean pyramid, created by a group led by the Harvard School of Public Health, turns the government pyramid on its head. It suggests you eat:

  • Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and other complex carbohydrates every day.
  • Olive oil every day.
  • Fish, poultry, eggs, and sweets a few times a week.
  • Red meat only a few times a month.

Now, that’s more like it! I do have a criticism with the recommendation to eat cheese every day. I suggest you eat cheese, which tends to be high in fat, only a few times a week, unless you buy the non-fat kind. Eating based on the Mediterranean pyramid is delicious and healthy. The pyramid grew out of research findings that showed the Greeks and the Japanese as living longest and enjoying the lowest rate of heart disease and cancer. The traditional Japanese diet is low in fat, so it’s easy to see why the Japanese diet provides lasting health. But the Greeks?

Up to 40% of the Greek diet is fat. How could they be so healthy when eating so much fat? Ahh, but most of the fat comes from olive oil, an amazing substance. It is a monounsaturated
fat, which can actually protect against heart disease and lower cholesterol by raising your good, or HDL cholesterol. It doesn’t go rancid easily and tastes delicious.

Now, I don’t want you to go on a 40% fat diet – 20% fat is the goal. Let’s take the best from other cultures to learn how to eat better (and love it). Concentrate on fresh vegetables, whole grains, and other unprocessed foods. Plus, use small portions of meat as a condiment in a meal such as kabobs. Here are some foods I’d love for you to eat more of and why:

My Butter Replacement

I use a dab of olive oil in place of butter. It’s delicious, and I know I’m doing my heart and arteries a big favor, not to mention my waistline! You’ll cut the saturated fat by 75%.
The only downside of olive oil is that it’s not good for sautéing or “working” because it breaks down at low heat. For stir frying, use canola oil, which is monounsaturated. Please be sure it is pre- served with Vitamin E, since it does go rancid. The Hain brand of Canola oil contains Vitamin E (found in health food stores). If you have Vitamin E capsules, the oil form, you can open one and add the contents to a new bottle of canola oil to preserve it.

Calcium-Rich, Non-Fat and Delicious

The Mediterranean pyramid specifically mentions the great food yogurt. I am a big fan of non-fat yogurt. It’s packed with nutrients, has beneficial bacteria for the digestive system, and has no saturated fat. One serving of yogurt provides more calcium than a serving of milk. Some research indicates that yogurt may also give your immune system a shot in the arm.

Whole Grains for Nutrition and Fiber

For most North Americans, grains are uncharted territory. I recommend making whole, unprocessed grains a part of every meal. For example, in the morning, have whole grain cereal such as Erewhon’s Crispy Brown Rice. For lunch, have some whole grain bread, and for dinner put rice, barley, or quinoa on the menu.

I haven’t talked about one component of the Mediterranean pyramid. Wine certainly is part of the Mediterranean pyramid. The French, Italians, and Greeks tend to drink red wine, often watered down, with lunch and dinner. I see the other foods, as key to the healthfulness of the Mediterranean diet. Just remember moderation. If you don’t otherwise drink alcohol and enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, I say, “Cheers.” If you don’t have a taste for wine or if you take prescription drugs, I’d skip the wine and enjoy all the other wonderful foods that this way of eating has to offer.

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