Tag Archives: Mediterranean Diet

Beans: A Key Ingredient to the Mediterranean Diet

Q&A with Kathy McManus, MS, RD, LDN (Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston)

BB (Bean Bulletin): Kathy, you’ve spent a large part of your career counseling patients and conducting research focused on reducing chronic diseases and achieving a healthy lifestyle. What drew you to the Mediterranean diet as a recommended dietary pattern for patients?

Kathy: The main thing that drew me to this diet is taste. In order to shift people from a diet approach to a lifestyle approach, we have to appeal to their senses, and the Mediterranean diet has exceptional flavor. I also love this diet because of the availability and familiarity of the ingredients, as well as ease in preparation. It has a great deal of variety, which makes it ideal for people cooking for themselves.

And of course as a dietitian, I am drawn to the wonderful health-promoting attributes of this diet.

BB: Yes, there are many studies that support the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, especially cardiovascular. What emerging area of research do you find particularly interesting? Or is there any research in progress, or on the horizon, that you’re following closely?

Kathy: There is a lot of research ongoing right now to further explore the association with the Mediterranean diet and primary prevention of diabetes, improved cognitive function, certain cancers, depression and a long list of continued benefits in heart health and longevity research.

Some exciting emerging areas of research include the MIND Diet (a hybrid Mediterranean-Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension), which takes two well-proven diets and focuses on the specific foods included in these diets that protect brain health. The foods emphasized include leafy greens (but all vegetables are important), nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine.  A study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia followed 923 participants, 58 to 98 years old, for an average of 4.5 years. They found a reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in those who followed the MIND dietary pattern.

Another recent study published in the International Journal of Cancer found that the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of a deadly form of breast cancer by nearly 40% in postmenopausal women. The study followed 62,573 Dutch women aged 55 to 69 over two decades, and the results suggest that adherence to the Mediterranean diet could significantly reduce the risk of women getting estrogen-receptor negative (ER-negative) breast cancer.

There is also the ongoing SUN Cohort Study out of Spain that’s examining the connection between the Mediterranean diet and depression.  A 2016 article published in Clinical Psychology Science showed that participants with the highest adherence to the Mediterranean diet saw a 50% relative risk reduction in depression risk compared to those with the lowest dietary adherence.

And you can just Google “Mediterranean diet research” and find something new every single month. The research for the multitude of benefits for this diet just continues to grow and grow.

BB: That’s exciting that there are continually more and more benefits found from this dietary pattern. Kathy, beans and other legumes are sometimes forgotten when people think of the Mediterranean diet. How do beans fit into this dietary pattern and are they a key component of the diet?

Kathy: Beans are absolutely a part of this diet, and they are a critical component. If you look at the traditional diets in the Mediterranean and diets of the Blue Zones (regions of the world with the highest concentration of centenarians), they all include beans. Beans can fit into practically every meal, snack, and side, and there are lots of ways that beans can be easily and deliciously incorporated.

I think the American palate just needs more education about how these foods can be easily incorporated. It’s more about showing delicious recipes and sharing simple ways for how beans can fit. There are so many choices in the Mediterranean diet, and we must show our patients and clients all of the delicious possibilities.

BB: So true! When you’re counseling patients, what are the main guidelines or key recommendations you share to encourage a Mediterranean diet?

Kathy: I like to start with simple but profound changes. At the base of the pyramid, it really start with eating lots of vegetables and that is sometimes challenging to translate. I really like to take patients where they are at: “Where are you starting today, and how can we build on that continuum so you can start to consume more vegetables?”

I also like to start with making sure they understand what are good fats, and to encourage regularly enjoying good sources, foods like extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds and olives.  Vegetables are really enhanced with extra virgin olive oil, so I like to help patients to discover that using healthy fats is not only good for health, but also adds great flavor.

Seafood is also very important. If they’re not eating fish, I recommend incorporating at least one serving of fish each week, and this can be fresh or canned. Canned tuna and sardines are very convenient, and both are sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

It’s also important to talk about whole grains, and making the switch from refined grains to whole grains.

I also try to begin a conversation about changing the way they think about meat, and this is where beans come in. Beans are a plant-based protein and something I encourage patients to regularly consume. I might recommend cooking a vegetarian meal 1-2 nights a week. This encourages more plant-based foods, and to find alternative sources of protein from something like beans.

Finally, I try to make a push to rethink the traditional refined, high sugar desserts and to enjoy fruit regularly and save desserts for a special treat.

It really boils down to helping them realize that small, simple changes are going to have great benefits, and that they will begin reaping benefits today, tomorrow and the rest of their life with this diet.

BB: That is all excellent advice. What are some ideas you share with patients or clients to incorporate beans into Mediterranean diet based meals?

Kathy: I like to go with user-friendly things and foods that are familiar to most Americans. I may start with a chili, possibly one that has turkey, and then recommend a vegetarian chili that incorporates more beans.

I also encourage that if they’re at a salad bar or making salads at home, use beans. It’s a great way to introduce beans as a plant-based protein.

I also think black bean burgers are delicious and go over quite well with families.

And of course, there are so many side dishes. A white bean marinated in olive oil with dill and cumin is something I love. It’s mild, tender and delicious!

I think it’s really important that we share doable, simple strategies to help people put the Mediterranean diet into action. I think people know and talk about the diet, but it’s sometimes difficult to translate. The more we can share simple tips and recipes, the more we’ll help people begin to follow and experience the benefits.

BB: Absolutely true! Now the final and most important question: what are some of your favorite Mediterranean diet based recipes?

Kathy: I love so many recipes from the Mediterranean! Some recipes I make often are Roasted Moroccan Vegetables (carrots and sweet potatoes) with extra virgin olive oil, cumin and Moroccan spices, with a few pecans added at the end. I also love farro with balsamic flavored mushrooms. In the spring I like to make whole wheat pasta with asparagus and cannellini beans. I’m a fan of red pepper hummus for a satisfying snack. I also make wheat berry pasta with black beans and edamame. And of course, pesto with fettuccini is a staple.

That’s really what I love about the Mediterranean Diet. There are so many ways to incorporate the ingredients and it really is delicious.

BB: Kathy, thank you for this wonderful information and your delicious recommendations.

Enjoy a Delicious, Bean-Filled Mediterranean Diet for Health

The 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.




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.


Fast Facts: Things You May Not Know about the Mediterranean Diet and the Region it Calls Home

1. There are 21 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, but the countries on the northern border (Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and the South of France) are home to the foods and traditions most typically referred to as “Mediterranean” cuisine.
2. The Mediterranean basin covers 28,580 miles of shoreline and connects three continents: Africa, Asia and Europe.
3. Olive trees, producing the fruit used to make olive oil, are native to the Mediterranean region and are one of the oldest known cultivated trees in the world, grown before written language was invented.
4. The climate around the Mediterranean—mild, rainy winters and dry, hot summers—is ideal for producing the wide variety of fruits, vegetables, pulses and wheat that are traditional to the diet.
5. The Mediterranean Sea has been given a variety of different names by different people through history, including “Our Sea,” “Great Sea,” “Western Sea” and “White Sea.” The name Mediterranean Sea comes from the Latin word mediterraneus, meaning “inland” sea.
6. Wine making has been an important part of Mediterranean life for at least 5,000 years, and today Italy, France and Spain lead the world in wine production.

Q&A with A Renowned Chef, Cookbook Author, and Restaurateur

In this month’s Q&A we feature Chef Joyce Goldstein. For twelve years she was chef/owner of the ground-breaking Mediterranean Restaurant, SQUARE ONE, in San Francisco, which received numerous prestigious industry awards for food, wine and service. Prior to SQUARE ONE, Joyce was chef of the Cafe at Chez Panisse for three years. She was also Visiting Executive Chef of the Wine Spectator Restaurant at The Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley.

Joyce was voted San Francisco magazine’s Chef of the Year in 1992 and received the James Beard Award for Best Chef in California for 1993, and the lifetime achievement award from Women Chefs and Restaurateurs, of which she is a Founding Board Member.

Joyce is a prolific cookbook author, cooking teacher, and lecturer. Her cookbook titles include The Mediterranean Kitchen, Back to Square One, winner of both the Julia Child and James Beard Awards for Best General Cookbook of 1992, and Kitchen Conversations, an IACP book award nominee in 1997. She is the author of Antipasti, Italian Slow and Savory (IACP and James Beard award nominee), Solo Suppers, Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen, Sephardic Flavors: Jewish Cooking of the Mediterranean, Enoteca: Simple, Delicious Food from Italian Wine Bars, Saffron Shores: Jewish Cooking of the Southern Mediterranean, Mediterranean Fresh, and Tapas. Her most recent books include The New Mediterranean Jewish Table and Inside the California Food Revolution: Thirty Years that Changed our Culinary Consciousness.

BB: You’ve published many cookbooks on Mediterranean cuisine. Are beans a part of all Mediterranean cuisines, or are some parts of the Mediterranean more likely to use beans in their cuisines?

JG: Beans are popular throughout the Mediterranean. White beans (i.e., white kidney beans, a.k.a. cannellini beans) are popular in Italy. Gigantes (large white butter beans) are used in Greek cuisine. Garbanzo beans are very popular in many regions.

BB: You’ve talked extensively about the tradition of cooking beans with greens in the Mediterranean. What are some of your favorite beans and greens dishes?

JG: This list is long! But here are some of my favorites:

  • Greek Sopa de Avikas (White Bean Soup)
  • Italian Pasta with Shrimp, White Beans, Greens, and Toasted Breadcrumbs
  • Italian Stew of White Beans, Greens and Tomatoes from Livorno (Tuscany)
  • Italian Minestrone with Pasta, Cannellini Beans, and Swiss Chard
  • Spanish Sopa de Garvansos y espinacas (Garbanzo and Spinach Soup)

BB: What process do you use when you cook with dry beans at home? Do you do a slow soak, a quick soak, a hot soak, a brine?

JG: I soak overnight, rinse, cover with fresh water, and cook slowly.

BB: What advice do you have for home cooks who want to cook with dry beans more often at home?

JG: Soaking the beans overnight makes them easier to cook. If you forget to soak overnight, then you can use a “hot soak” method. Boil the beans for a minute or two, let rest for an hour, drain and then cook as if you had soaked them overnight. But be sure to cook them over low heat so they don’t explode.  Add salt the last 15 or 20 minutes. You can store cooked beans in their cooking liquid in the refrigerator for a few days.

BB: When you think about putting together the perfect pantry for Mediterranean cooking, what ingredients do you always have on hand?

JG: Olive oil, onions, garlic, lemons, spices and herbs, canned tomatoes, dried beans, rice, farro, and pasta.

BB: What pantry ingredients are essential when you’re cooking with dry beans?

JG: Onions, garlic, bay leaves, sometimes carrots.

BB:  What was the most popular bean dish on your menu at SQUARE ONE and why do you think it resonated so well with your customers?

JG: Brazilian Feijoada, which is made with black beans, pork, rice, and greens.  Everyone loved it. But it’s not Mediterranean. It was festive; we only served it on weekends, as a “party dish” to share among family and friends.

BB: What’s the best bean dish you’ve ever eaten in a restaurant?

JG: Ah…a fabada Asturiana in Spain, a stew made with large white beans and sausage. It’s so comforting. And so delicious!