May is Mediterranean Diet Month

It doesn't matter where in the world you live, you can always have a Mediterranean way of eating and living. In my country, Argentina, because of the massive immigration from Europe during and after the World Wars, we have a huge Mediterranean influence. 

The Mediterranean Diet is a valuable piece of cultural heritage that, from simplicity and variety, has resulted in a complete and balanced combination of foods, known to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Fresh, local ingredients, cooking methods, shared meals, celebrations and moderate physical activity make this lifestyle one of the healthiest in the world. 

Check Oldways's International Mediterranean Diet Month website for more information and resources. 

To get started on the Mediterranean Diet, here are the eight basic tenets from Oldways:

1. Eat lots of vegetables. From a simple plate of sliced fresh tomatoes topped with crumbled feta cheese to healthy pizzas, vegetables are vitally important. The recommendation is to fill half your plate with them.

2. Change the way you think about meat. If you eat meat, add small strips of sirloin to a vegetable sauté or garnish a pasta dish with diced prosciutto. As a main course, eat three ounces or less of chicken or lean meat.

3. Always eat breakfast. Start your day with fiber-rich foods such as fruit and whole grains that keep you feeling pleasantly full for hours. Layer granola, yogurt and fruit, or mash half an avocado and spread it on whole grain toast.

4. Eat seafood twice a week. Fish such as tuna, herring, salmon and sardines are rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish including mussels, oysters and clams have similar benefits for brain and heart health.

5. Cook a vegetarian meal one or more nights a week. Build these meals around beans, whole grains and vegetables, and heighten the flavor with fragrant herbs and spices.

6. Use good fats. Include healthy fat sources in daily meals, especially extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, olives and avocados.

7. Enjoy some dairy products. Eat Greek or plain yogurt and try small amounts of a variety of cheeses.

8. For dessert, eat fresh fruit. Choose from a wide range — from fresh figs and oranges to pomegranates, grapes and apples. Save sweets like cookies and ice cream for a special treat.

Finally, here is a Mediterranean dish that I've modified from my mom´s recipe:


Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Recipe developed by Romina Barritta de Defranchi, DTR

Serves 3

Ingredients
For the crepes:
1 cup low-fat milk
1 egg
½ cup flour
¼ tsp salt
1 teaspoon butter

For the filling:
1 or 2 bunches of fresh spinach (about 1 lb.), stemmed and washed
2 cups of low-fat ricotta
1 egg
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

Topping:
1 ½ cup tomato sauce
⅓ cup of grated parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Cook the spinach in boiling water until just wilted. Drain and cool.
  3. Meanwhile, make the crepe batter by mixing the low-fat milk, egg, flour and salt with a whisk until smooth.
  4. Heat an 8-inch non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Melt butter in the pan and pour about ¼ cup of batter in with one hand. With the opposite hand, swirl the pan until the batter coats the bottom. Cook the crepe until patchy light brown on the bottom, about 20-30 seconds. Loosen the edges of the crepe, flip it to the other side and cook until golden brown, about 15 seconds. Remove the crepe and cook the rest of the batter.
  5. To make the filling, squeeze up spinach moisture very well and finely chop. Combine spinach with the ricotta, egg, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  6. To assemble, spread half of the tomato sauce on a gratin dish. Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling in the middle of each crepe, roll up and transfer to the gratin dish (do not overlap; cannelloni are baked on a single layer). Ladle the rest of the tomato sauce over the top and sprinkle with cheese. Bake for about 15 minutes or until bubbling. Let rest a few minutes and serve with extra Parmesan cheese and/or sauce if desired.
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Romina Barritta de Defranchi
Romina Barritta, DTR, is a dietitian based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She runs GlobalDietitians.com, a networking site for food and nutrition professionals from around the world. She is Board member of the International Affiliate of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (IAAND). Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.