No Need to Limit Healthy Fats With the Mediterranean Diet, New Study Says
I’ve been promoting the Mediterranean diet and sources of “good” fat—like avocado, almonds, and olive oil—for quite some time. You may already be enjoying eating these high-fat foods in moderation. But now, new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that limits on total fat intake may not be needed in order to gain their protective health benefits.
The University of Minnesota study reviewed previous research on adults who consumed a Mediterranean diet that placed no restriction on total fat intake. To qualify as Mediterranean, the diet had to share two or more of the following characteristics: High monounsaturated-to-saturated fat ratio (e.g., more olive oil than butter); high fruit and vegetable intake; high grain intake; high consumption of legumes (like beans, lentils, and chickpeas); moderate red wine consumption; moderate consumption of dairy products; and low consumption of meat and meat products with a higher intake of ï¬sh.
The researchers found that subjects who adhere to such a diet may face a reduced risk of heart disease, breast cancer, and type 2 diabetes—three of the top causes of illness and death in the United States—regardless of how much healthy fat they consume.
That said, this study used limited data, didn’t assess weight management, and isn’t definitive. So I think it’s too early to say, "Go ahead and plow through that daily jar of nut butter."
However, I do advise my clients to eat healthy fats at every meal. It is one of my top rules of thumb for crafting meals that are filling, satisfying, nutrient-rich, and balanced.
For those benefits and to possibly help ward off diseases, here are five creative ways to sneak more fat into your diet, Mediterranean-style.
Eat olives for breakfast
In addition to being a delicious addition to vegetable omelets, olives are the perfect fat for a savory grab-and-go breakfast. Toss a handful in a sealable container along with a few hard-boiled eggs and some fresh cut veggies, such as cucumber, red bell pepper, or celery.
Coat steamed veggies with nut butter
Most people eat nut butter with jam or fruit. But it also makes a great savory veggie sauce base. In a small bowl, thin two tablespoons of almond butter by whisking in one tablespoon of warm water or low-sodium vegetable broth. Stir in a teaspoon of minced garlic, a quarter teaspoon of fresh grated ginger, and one-eighth teaspoon of both ground cumin and crushed red pepper. Toss in a few cups of steamed veggies, or drizzle the sauce over a generous portion of grilled or oven-roasted veggies.
RELATED: Best and Worst Nuts for Your Health
Use tahini in place of mayo
Tahini, also called sesame seed paste or butter, makes a perfect substitute for mayo in sandwiches or protein salads (think tuna, chicken and lentil). Doctor up your tahini by adding fresh or dried herbs and spices. One of my favorite combos is two tablespoons of tahini mixed with two teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, a teaspoon of minced garlic, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
Make avocado soup
As you may already know, avocado goes with everything! I’ve shared tips for using it in place of butter in baking, whipping it into fruit smoothies or pudding, and pureeing it with seasonings for a creamy salad dressing. And of course, guac is life. But did you know avocado also makes a great base for a chilled summer soup?
For a simple version, over low heat in a medium pan, cook a teaspoon of EVOO with a quarter cup of minced onion and a teaspoon of garlic. Add a cup each of chopped zucchini and low-sodium vegetable broth, a teaspoon of Italian herb seasoning, and a dash of black pepper and sea salt. Bring to a quick boil; then reduce to a simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. In a food processor, puree the zucchini mixture with half of a ripe avocado. Refrigerate the soup for at least 30 minutes. Enjoy with a serving of cold lean protein, such as shrimp or chilled lentils.
Drizzle fruit with olive oil and balsamic
Fruit is fantastic by itself, but adding a bit of EVOO and balsamic significantly ups the satisfaction factor. I love to drizzle the mixture on strawberries and figs. You can also brush or rub melon, pineapple, or stone fruits (including peaches, nectarines, and plums) with EVOO before grilling, then add a splash of vinegar. For even more flavor, add some fresh herbs, like basil or rosemary.
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Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a consultant for the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Nets.