High on Beans and Nuts: Mediterranean Diet Ranks Best Overall

By Katie Coleman

If you’re considering a healthier lifestyle, experts say the Mediterranean diet is a great pathway to achieving overall health.

Convened by U.S News & World Report, a panel of experts made up of nutritionists, health specialists and other experts in human behavior, heart health, weight loss and diabetes recently ranked the Mediterranean diet the No. 1 best overall diet.

They ranked 40 diets overall in categories including long and short-term weight loss, nutrition, safety and how easy the diet is to follow.

“We continue to see more robust research suggesting its benefits for weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention and diabetes prevention and control,” said Angela Haupt, assistant managing editor of health at U.S. News & World Report.

Eating healthy fats, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil, fruits and veggies, small amounts of meat, dairy, poultry and red wine characterize the Mediterranean diet, although that varies from region to region. The diet was influenced by different civilizations that lived and gathered along the Mediterranean Sea throughout history and in part reflects food patterns of Crete, Greece and southern Italy.

The social and physical elements of the Mediterranean lifestyle are important for the overall health of the region, where emphasis is on eating as a social occasion with friends and family, and frequent activities like walking and getting outside after meals.

Allyson Odachowski, registered dietitian and the media representative for the NYS Academy of Nutrition and Diatetics, has been a dietitian for 18 years and runs a private practice, Custom Diatetics, in Williamsville.

She works with patients one-on-one to achieve their health and nutritional goals, including diabetes monitoring, weight management and dealing with food allergies. She offered up valuable advice on the Mediterranean diet and achieving goals safely and successfully.

“What tends to work best in my patients who have long-term success is that they set small and realistic goals and they have a way to track their progress,” Odachowski said.

“And having someone to help them along, whether that’s a friend, family member or a professional.”

Using an app on your phone, Apple Watch, Fitbit, or writing a food log are different ways to track your food intake when making a healthy switch, and Odachowski stressed that in partnership to a healthy diet, physical activity is critical for your overall health goals.

When it comes to tailoring what the right amount of poultry or dairy intake is, there are many factors at play for each person: age, gender, health status, weight and activity level.

“The Mediterranean way of eating has a general kind of pattern, but if people are looking for very specific recommendations, they should really talk to someone who can walk through that with them,” Odachowski said.

Target foods

She explained the different components of the diet and offered up expert advice:

• Healthy fats: “Fat needs to be in your diet and it’s a healthy part of it,” Odachowski said. “It’s not about low fat, but choosing the right type. We want people to focus on omega-3 and monounsaturated fats.” Healthy fat sources include avocado, olive oil, fatty fish, olives, nuts, chia and flax seeds.

• Fish: “Fish is very lean and a great protein source but the type of fat salmon has sets it apart. Tuna fish and steak would probably be second on the list in terms of beneficial fat, being accessible and something people are comfortable eating,” Odachowski said.

• Whole grains: “When you eat whole grains, you’re getting the whole grain the way it was grown in nature versus when refined. A lot of times vitamins and minerals are added back but you lose the benefit of eating that whole food,” Odachowski said. “Certainly the better choice is the whole grain because you’re getting that food as it was grown in nature and that’s really what we want to do and not have them be so processed.”
Recommendations include eating brown rice, whole grain couscous, bulgur and quinoa.

• Beans: “Beans are great because they’re a complex carbohydrate and a plant-based source of protein. You’re getting sustainable energy, fiber and they’re great for lowering cholesterol,” Odachowski said. Incorporate a variety of beans into your diet such as black beans, lentils, chickpeas, pinto and kidney beans.

• Nuts: “I encourage patients to choose a variety of nuts,” Odachowski said. “Don’t necessarily just have one type. Walnuts have the highest amount of omega-3 fat, so that’s something unique about them.” There are many nuts to choose from, and dry roasted nuts are a healthy alternative to nuts roasted in oil.

• Fruits and veggies: “The key once again is variety. I see people get into a rut when they eat a small rotation of the same few vegetables and fruits. What people don’t realize is they’re limiting their nutrition profile,” Odachowski said. She recommends switching up the fruits and vegetables you purchase once a week, or whenever you take your next grocery trip.