As I began to look for ways to feed my family better I began to be overwhelmed. What is America's food? We have Italian food, Mexican food, Chinese food but what about American food. All we are known for is high fat, high sugar foods that are causing all sorts of chronic health problems.
I tried to become a gourmet cook in multiple different country's foods with recipes that had been handed down for generations through family lines that were not my own. I had burnt, crispy tortillas, dry lasagna, mushy quinoa and unsatisfied children. As I began to study nutrition a few key points began to stand out. Looking at whole foods are more important than individual nutrients; attitude towards food is often overlooked; and the one diet in the world that has stood the test of time is the Mediterranean diet.
So if I am going to become a gourmet cook in one type of eating it is going to be Mediterranean. So the following is the guidelines I am using when preparing meals and meal plans. Some things will be modified since I don't live in the Mediterranean.
So the Mediterranean way of eating for Americans:
1) Lots and lots and lots of non-starchy vegetables and fruits
(5-10 servings daily; 1 serving is 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw)
2) Use olive oil for everything! Avocados and olives are also a good choice for healthy fats
3) Pick legumes, seed, nuts
Eat legumes (hummus, soups etc.) at least twice a week (1/2 cup is one serving)
Eat seeds and nuts everyday (1 Tbsp. or 10-12 nuts)
Break out the eggs and enjoy!
Work up to eating fish 2-3 times a week (4 oz.) I can't get good fresh fish where I live so frozen is a good option. Just check to see where it was caught from (fresh vs. farm fed fish) and how it got there (boat is better than plane for the planet).
Limit red meat (hamburger, steak etc.) to 2-3 times a month (or less).
Limit chicken and other lean protein sources to once a week (or less).
5) Dairy: Try to eat cultured dairy sources as it provides a good assortment of bacteria that is needed for optimal gastrointestinal function.
Milk, yogurt, cheese (1-3 servings daily, 1 cup (milk or yogurt) or 1 oz. cheese is one serving)
Whole gains (must be eaten in a form that contains the endosperm, bran and germ). Eat 4 small servings daily. Think outside the box (barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, spelt, teff, wild rice). Wheat is not the only whole grain but to many Americans that is what the words 'whole grain' has come to mean.
7) Herbs and spices instead of salt
8) Drink water
9) Eat locally and in season
10) Make it social, relaxed, and enjoyable!
A pattern of eating is the most important indicator of future chronic disease risk. Work towards having the Mediterranean diet be your pattern. That doesn't mean you won't enjoy a large steak, a few cookies, ice cream or cake. Just let those be special occasion foods and enjoy them with people you love. Day to day though try to slowly shift your diet to mirror the Mediterranean way of eating.