Enjoy a Delicious, Bean-Filled Mediterranean Diet for Health

Main-Article-PhotoThe Mediterranean diet receives a lot of positive attention from the nutrition and health community, and for very good reason. This dietary pattern, which is traditional to countries along the Mediterranean Sea, has been associated with remarkable health outcomes, including an increased lifespan, reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes, and lower risk of certain cancers, as well as a wide range of other health benefits.

Hundreds of peer-reviewed journal articles, including intervention trials and large epidemiological studies, have supported the healthfulness of the Mediterranean diet. When you ask experts about the health benefits of this “diet,” they are quick to tell you that it’s not a diet, but in fact a lifestyle. Instead of a prescriptive way of eating, it’s a recommended pattern that emphasizes certain foods and food groups. The major tenants of the Mediterranean Diet are:

  • It encourages plant-based eating with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, legumes (beans and peas), whole grains, nuts and seeds.
  • It promotes healthy fats. It focuses less on total fat consumption and more on choosing better fats, like olive oil, in place of saturated fats, like butter. The traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern consists of 43% calories from fat, most of it unsaturated.
  • It encourages people to enjoy fish and seafood at least twice a week.
  • Cheese and yogurt are eaten regularly.
  • Eggs and poultry are enjoyed weekly.
  • It emphasizes herbs and spices to add flavor and to decrease salt.
  • It encourages people to limit their consumption of red meat and sweets.
  • It allows you to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, if you choose, and it recognizes the fact that both red and white wines provide health benefits when consumed in moderation.

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What sets the Mediterranean diet apart is that it’s not only healthy but also flexible and delicious! These dietary recommendations can easily be adapted to meet specific tastes and needs. Also, using healthy fats, nuts, small amounts of cheese, and herbs and spices adds great flavor and interesting texture to dishes and can transform ingredients from ordinary to extraordinary.

Beyond the foods that are associated with this diet, it encourages people to enjoy the entire process of creating meals, including cooking and eating meals together. It also emphasizes being physically active each day.

Why Do Beans Matter?

Beans are a key component of the Mediterranean diet, but they are sometimes overlooked as one of the dietary contributors to good health. A lot of media attention focuses on other aspects of the Mediterranean diet like red wine or olive oil, but beans are not to be missed. They really are at the cornerstone of this dietary pattern. They have been a major food source in all the traditional food patterns in the Mediterranean, and they pack a unique combination of nutrients that gives them a profile similar to both a protein and vegetable. Further, beans have been identified as a factor in “Blue Zone” regions, areas of the world that researchers have identified as having the highest concentrations of centenarians. In “Blue Zone” areas, they found that the longest-lived people eat a full cup of beans every day!

How to Fit Beans Into Your Mediterranean Eating Pattern

 Incorporating beans into the Mediterranean diet is a no brainer because they are already a key dietary component, plus they are healthful, easy, and delicious. At breakfast, consider sautéing some dark leafy greens with extra-virgin olive oil. Add drained and rinsed canned black beans and top with poached eggs.  You have a delicious breakfast that packs a healthy dose of protein. Delight in a homemade pinto bean hummus with fresh vegetables and whole grain chips for a simple, satisfying snack. Whole grain pasta with fresh, seasonal vegetables and white beans makes an excellent dish that is easy, delicious, and great for entertaining a crowd. Or enjoy a fresh, heart-healthy salad with dark leafy greens, mixed vegetables, your favorite bean, a nice drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. The possibilities are endless and delicious!

Also, remember that the Mediterranean Diet not only encourages eating certain foods, but also taking joy in preparing healthful meals at home. Cooking with dried beans is a simple yet rewarding process. Check out the Traditional Four-Step Method to preparing dried beans, as well as our interview with Dr. Guy Crosby from America’s Test Kitchen to read food science insights for preparing dry beans using the brining method.

Looking for more information and inspiring bean recipes?

Visit Oldways for a wealth of information on the Mediterranean diet and the World Bean Kitchen’s “Bean Cuisine from Mediterranean Masters” to discover delicious recipes that highlight the foods and flavors from this region of the world.