Monday, January 16, 2012

Good Food, Great Medicine

Those who've read my butter blog know that I have a ponch, and have been "strongly encouraged" to go on a diet. After a good deal of dragging my feet, and defending the merits of; a little round belly, that shakes when I laugh, like a bowl full of jelly; I finally capitulated. On New Years Day, I began a diet based on the spiral bound book Good Food, Great Medicine: A HOMEMADE COOKBOOK by Mea Hassell & Miles Hassell M.D..  On the cover, the book is described as, "An evidence based guide to using the Mediterranean diet and your kitchen in the pursuit of optimal health."

When I told my friends I'd begun The Mediterranean Diet, more than one of the asked if it had been hard to give up dairy? The question confused me, since I hadn't given up dairy. In fact, one reason I agreed to do THIS diet was the fact I wouldn't have to sacrifice cheese. I decided to do what I always do when I'm confused, I looked things up online.

"Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics, and you'll get ten different answers..." While J. Michael Straczynski's quote didn't originally apply to the field of eating plans, it very easily could have. As I surfed the web, I found almost as many variations of The Mediterranean Diet as there are interpretations of The Bible. OK, maybe not quite that many, but you get my point. After a good bit of research, I realized my friends had been referring to The Paleo-Mediterranean Diet. According to, The Paleo-Mediterranean Diet makes the following bulleted recommendations.

  • "Eat all the lean, wild, organic meat, fish, and seafood you desire if eaten according to the recommended schedule and quantities.  Whey protein or egg protein powders and soy or pea protein are good choices when you don’t have time or access to meat protein. 
  • Eat all the in-season, non-starchy vegetables you want:  cooked or raw; not peeled, juiced, or processed.  Chopped up is OK.  Blending in smoothies is OK.  You need the fiber!  
  • Avoid excess fruit:no more than 1 piece per day and it should be whole fruit, with the peel.  If diabetic or prediabetic, no fruit at all.  Sugar is sugar.
  • Avoid eating cereals or grains or white potatoes, sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.  Particularly avoid any grain with gluten (wheat, barley, rye).  If at your ideal body weight and composition, you could have up to 1/2 serving per day of a non-gluten-containing grain such as quinoa or wild rice.
  • Avoid artificial sweeteners.  Xylitol and stevia and small quantities of raw honey, agave, or real organic maple syrup are acceptable natural sweeteners in very small quantities.  But, again, eating none of this category is best, particularly if you are prediabetic or have type 2 diabetes.
  • Moderate legumes (beans, lentils, soybeans, peas, peanuts) and nuts. OK for 1 serving per day, but too many calories for regular eating at meals.  Legumes have been shown to help stabilize blood sugar in diabetics if used instead of grains/refined carbohydrates.
  • Avoid dairy products.
  • Use only cold pressed olive and canola oils for salads or cooking; Ghee (clarified butter) is OK as well.  Avoid margarine, shortening or any Trans-fats or vegetable/corn/safflower oil.  Take 2 tablespoons of fish or cod-liver oil daily or take an EPA/DHA/GLA supplement.  Flax oil is a good omega-3 oil, but it is not a substitute for fish oil.
  • Don’t eat processed foods; stay out of the middle aisles in the grocery store!  Processed means anything that was done to a food to alter it (ground, smoked, colored, mixed up, cooked, chemically adulterated).  Most processed foods are in boxes, jars, or containers and have multiple, often unpronounceable ingredients."

  • Like the Paleo version, the Hassell's diet is about excluding enriched white flour and prepared foods, and focuses on eating mainly; fresh fruits & veggies, seeds & nuts, whole grains, good oils, and lean proteins. Yet, by contrast, the Hassells allow dairy products in their version off The Mediterranean Diet, most notably; cheese, yogurt & kefir (a drink with similar flavor & health benefits to yogurt), butter, and eggs.  The authors describe the health benefits of each of these traditionally forbidden foods, but offer strict guidelines for the inclusion of each food into ones diet.

    For example they state, "Although high in saturated fat and cholesterol, it (butter) also has many valuable nutrients. This is in sharp contrast to margarine, a chemically manipulated food which I view as nutritionally worthless, or worse." Yet, they go on to recommend the use of extra-virgin olive oil, in place of butter, whenever possible.

    Similarly, they claim that, "Arguably the healthiest people in the world live in Southern Europe and eat generous amounts of cheese." Because hard aged cheeses; sharp Cheddar, authentic Italian Parmesan, and alike; fill people faster, on fewer calories, than soft cheese they recommend mostly eating the hard cheeses and saving the Brie, and other soft cheese, for special occasions.

    While sugary, and diet, soft drinks are strictly forbidden by the Hassell's plan, they do allow for the inclusion of alcohol, especially red wine. Page 19 explains that moderate amounts seem to, "substantially lower the risk of dying (by up to 50 percent) from heart disease, and are associated with a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and dementia."

    Although reasonable amounts of; yogurt, butter, eggs, cheese, wine, and beer; are allowed, making the plan doable, at least for me, there will still be a few things I'll miss. Cured/processed meats are out, so I must wave good bye to; salami, pastrami, corned beef, ham, bacon, pancetta, capocollo, prosciutto, liverwurst, and hot dogs. Organ meats such as chicken liver are out too. Plus, excluding enriched white flour marks the departure of bagels and big soft pretzels from my diet.

    Fortunately, the Hassells acknowledge the necessity of splurging on occasion, in order to maintain one's sanity. I foresee myself splurging around the time of my birthday, next month, on a *Scotch Egg and *Steak & Kidney Pie at a British Pub I want to try, called The Horse Brass. This meal, and one other possible birthday generated bar trip, will serve as rewards for having stuck with the Hassell's plan the rest of the time.

    Breaks and rewards aside though, the more I think about; cooking fresh vegetables in EVOO, using whole grains, eating lean meats & fish, snacking on fruit & nuts, and enjoying cheese with a glass of wine or beer; the more the Hassell's plan makes sense to me.

    *= link to recipe, not written by me, for a particular dish



    1. It is true the food is best medicine than any tablet.

    2. This is such a wonderful guide to eating right. Similar to what we're doing but I need to incorporate some more of what's on your list. I've bookmarked it and already showed Tim, we're going to use it a sort of guide line too. Thanks for sharing this very helpful information, good luck with your diet too! I'm here for you if you need any support or motivation. I'm really excited to report I lost 13 lbs since December, whoo hoo! We can do this James! =]

    3. Woohoo! 13lbs is a great start! Thanks for your support, I've got your back too. :-)

    4. I totally agree with you food is the most important then medicines.
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