Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

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Nutrition: The benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

 Man enjoying the Mediterranean dietThis article originally ran in the Healing Journal newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year found that about 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart attack could be prevented in people if they switch to a Mediterranean style diet. The results of the study were so overwhelmingly clear that the study was stopped early.

“The Mediterranean diet is not a specific diet plan or program,” said Jeannie Paris, RD, LD, integrative nutritionist with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. “Rather, it is a collection of eating habits followed by people in the Mediterranean region including Greece, southern Italy and Spain.”

According to Paris, the diet is characterized by abundant plant foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, olive oil and a moderate amount of fatty fish or lean poultry. Some people following the eating style may consume a small amount of red wine with meals. The lifestyle in the Mediterranean region also places an emphasis on being physically active and enjoying meals with family and loved ones. The Mediterranean diet is also known for what it does not include: very little or no
red meat, trans fatty acids from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, foods high in sugar or processed foods.

“Along with reducing the risk for heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases, the Mediterranean diet may be helpful in reducing the risk of cancer, obesity, type II diabetes and other chronic illnesses,” said Paris. “The premise is that certain types of foods cause inflammation, including foods high in refined sugars or flours and foods that contain trans fatty acids, which are prevalent in the typical Western modern diet.”

Tips for incorporating a Mediterranean-style diet into daily life:

  • Emphasize plant proteins. Nuts, small seeds and legumes provide healthy protein and fiber. Experiment with new options, such as chia seeds, which are easily added to Greek yogurt or oatmeal.
  • Keep moving. Try to move more throughout the day. It doesn’t need to be an hour at the gym. Short walks spread in five to 10-minute increments throughout the day offer great benefits. Try to aim for 10,000 steps, which you are able to monitor through a pedometer or another tool, such as a Fitbit.
  • Make fruits and vegetables the center of your meals. One of the most important things to do to improve your diet is to shift your thinking from making meat the center of a meal to making plants the center of your meals.
  • Plan your meals around the fruits and vegetables. Aim for a variety of colors. The goal should be seven to nine servings a day of fruits and vegetables, but even five servings a day would make a big difference in improving most people’s diets.
  • Fish and poultry are healthier than red meat. If you include animal proteins in your diet, emphasize fish or poultry over red meat. Red meat is high in saturated fat. Cold-water fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and swordfish, are high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Use fruit as a dessert. In the Mediterranean diet, whole fruit is often served as a dessert. This is a much healthier option than our typical desserts, which are high in refined
    sugars. The key is to shop for fruit in season, when it naturally tastes its best.
  • If something is good for you, more is not necessarily better. In the study, participants were not limited on the amount of olive oil they could use and were actually instructed to use at least four tablespoons a day. They were told  to avoid all commercially made cookies, cakes and pastries and to limit dairy and meat. Olive oil, nuts and avocados are rich sources of monosaturated fat, but do provide a high amount of calories in rather small servings. Olive oil contains about 120 calories per tablespoon. To prevent weight gain, it’s important to limit unhealthier food choices when healthier monounsaturated fat sources are added in one’s diet. For olive oil, Paris recommends pouring extra virgin olive oil into a spritzer bottle and then spray your fish or vegetables before cooking instead of pouring the olive oil directly into the pan.
  • Seek expert help. Paris works with clients and offers one-on-one integrative nutrition counseling and metabolism testing.

Olive Oil Dressing

Olive Oil Salad Dressing
A very easy, flavor-filled dressing that goes with any kind of salad.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
3 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam (could use no sugar added jam or fresh raspberries in season)

Combine the three ingredients in a blender or shaker and process until smooth. Store in a jar in the refrigerator. Ingredient amounts can be adjusted for desired batch size and also to individual liking.

Delicious over a bed of spinach or mixed greens with strawberries, blueberries and a sprinkle of sliced almonds, walnut pieces or chia seeds.

To make an appointment with Paris, call the LiveWell Fitness Center at Abbott Northwestern Hospital at 612-863-5178 or the Penny George Institute – Unity Hospital at 763-236-5656.

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A healthy spin on summer grilling

By Jeannie Paris, RD, LD

Summer in Minnesota brings family reunions, outdoor cookouts and weekends at a cabin or camping with friends and family. These events tend to center around food, and often times we find ourselves gathering around an outdoor grill.

By late summer, you may be tired of the usual hamburgers, hotdogs or chicken breasts, but grilling isn’t just for meat or veggie burgers. You can cook up many foods that you may not have thought about. With fresh, local produce arriving at farmers’ markets, this is the perfect time to put a new spin on your grilling techniques!

  • Pizza is a favorite of many, and grilling your next homemade pizza eliminates using the oven. Choose the right toppings, and you have a healthy, delicious meal! Start with a whole wheat crust, spread it with tomato, pesto sauce or olive oil, and pile on sliced veggies such as broccoli, zucchini, tomatoes, onions and peppers. Add some lean meat or low-fat feta or mozzarella cheese if desired. Place the pizza directly on the grill, close the lid and wait for desired doneness. Then slice and enjoy!
  • Many of the summer veggies are delicious grilled! You can lightly coat asparagus spears with olive oil and spices, and lay the spears on the grill crosswise for about 5 minutes. Zucchini and summer squash are easy to grill as well. They can be cut lengthwise into quarters, brushed with olive oil and grilled to desired tenderness.
  • Foil packets are an easy way to grill veggies that are too small to place directly on the grill, such as carrots, tomatoes, onions, green beans, mushrooms and peppers. Use heavy-duty foil and spray one side with cooking spray, add veggies and spices, completely close the packet and place on the grill. Flip the packet once during cooking and expect cooking time to be 25-30 minutes.
  • Fresh fruit grilled is a sweet summertime treat! Try a whole, peeled banana, and slices of peach, apple, pineapple or pear directly on the grill. Larger slices are best to prevent burning. Add grilled fruits to a salad, top your protein source with them, or enjoy them as a side dish or a sweet, healthy dessert.

Just thinking about grilling fresh veggies and fruit has my mouth watering so I’ll be heading to a farmers’ market this week for some local veggies to put on my grill!

For more healthy recipes, visit Allina Health’s recipe page.

Jeannie Paris, RD, LD, is a Registered Dietician with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center.

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Holiday recipes

by Kelly McBride, LAc

As our days grow shorter and we move into the holidays, we have two strong pulls on our mind, body and spirit.  One pull is to gather friends and family together, eat great food and celebrate being together. The other is to move our attention inward, rest, seek quiet spaces and watch the landscape change and snow fall.  Although these pulls may feel like opposites, they don’t have to be, and it is important to honor both.  One way to embrace both is to make recipes that reflect both the celebration and the quiet.

For the pull toward celebration with friends and family, I think about desserts.  When cooking for family at this time of year, everyone’s dietary restrictions come to mind.  After a long search, I have found a rich, moist brownie recipe that meets those needs. Even “the people who can eat whatever they want” love this recipe.  This is an all-natural, grain-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free and, potentially, egg-free recipe (depending on how you like your brownies).  Are you asking what ingredients could possibly be left after you take all those things out?  The answer: the best ones!  Skeptical?  Give this recipe for Great Zucchini Brownies a try and you will be convinced!

Because this dessert has lots of protein, you won’t feel weighed down after eating it.

Now for the recipe that nourishes us when we yearn for quiet reflection and rest:  Balsamic Root Vegetables. Root vegetables are very grounding – both by their energetic nature, as well as the fact that they are full of carbohydrates.  After eating this, just think to yourself “Nap time – here I come!”  This recipe is sweet, rather than savory.

Whether you are craving some quiet time to rest and recover, or you are ready to get out and celebrate with friends and family, honor yourself, the season and the activity you have planned with foods that support you and what you need.  A simple way to remember this is to add protein to your diet when you need energy for the celebration, and add carbohydrates to your diet when you need to settle down and feel quiet.

Wishing you a wonderful winter season filled with friends and family balanced with quiet and rest!