The Miami Mediterranean Diet: Healthy Eating With An American Twist
Healthy eating is an issue with which Americans have become obsessed. Nutritional researchers have examined the diets of people in different geographical regions of the world to see if they contain foods that not only keep the body healthy, but also increase longevity. What these scientists have discovered is that the diet of the people who live around the Mediterranean Sea is best suited to fill both of these criteria.
The eating habits of these people have been studied over decades, and it has continually been proven that a meal strategy containing large quantities of fish, vegetables, fruits, legumes, cereals, and olive oil is the perfect antithesis to the American diet — high in red meat and dairy products — because the Mediterranean way of eating prevents heart disease and cancer. To solidify the case in favor of the Mediterranean diet, The British Medical Journal published a report written by several Italian doctors who compiled a dozen of the most well researched of these studies showing the superiority of the Mediterranean diet.
Although this way of eating is referred to as the “Mediterranean diet”, it isn’t a diet in the sense Americans use the term. Its biggest draw back is that it isn’t a temporary plan that you follow for a few weeks to get the beneficial effects. In order to get the benefits of this menu strategy, you have to change your lifestyle and make a complete commitment to eating this way at every meal. This can present a challenge for Americans whose busy lives don’t include time for the slow preparation of meals with multiple ingredients like those associated with the Mediterranean region. Americans get impatient in the line to the drive-up window of their local fast food restaurant if it isn’t moving quickly enough.
Dr. Michael Ozner, a board-certified cardiologist, medical director for the Center of Prevention and Wellness at Baptist Health South Florida, and medical director for the Cardiovascular Prevention Institute of South Florida, recognized the need for Americans to adopt the Mediterranean diet, in spite of their time crunch. He developed a way to embrace healthy meal choices without having to make too big a time investment for preparation. The result was his book, The Miami Mediterranean Diet (BenBella Books, 2008).
Dr. Ozner talked about his views on healthy eating during his interview: “Healthy diet is not a matter of preference or taste. It is a lifestyle choice. Making the choice to eat healthfully says ‘I want to live well, feel great, be happy, and enjoy a long life.’ As a preventive cardiologist, I have spent more than 25 years helping people turn their health around by adopting a delicious, nutritious way to eat: the Miami Mediterranean Diet. Not only does healthy eating help you lose weight, but it halts and reverses heart disease, as well as other diet-related conditions, such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Adopting a Mediterranean-style diet is the single best way to combat illness and disease. Healthy eating is about slowing down, enjoying a glass of red wine with dinner, conversing with family and friends, eating whole foods that are satisfying and feel great inside your body, and making meals part of a high quality of life that is low stress, active, and aware.”
When asked to explain the chief differences between the Mediterranean diet and his version, Dr. Ozner responded that his version is adapted for greater convenience and American tastes. For example, prepared pesto sauce can be substituted for making pesto from scratch. His version features seafood that is readily available in American markets, such as shrimp, scallops, and salmon. Dr. Ozner also recommends lower-fat or different-fat versions of common ingredients, such as canola/olive oil spread instead of butter, part-skim mozzarella instead of whole milk mozzarella, and olive oil cooking spray. These aren’t ingredients that would be used in Italy or Greece.
There is also less emphasis on red meat. Dr. Ozner’s Miami Mediterranean diet focuses more on low-fat poultry, shellfish, and seafood as protein sources. Whereas Europe cooks might spend an hour each day buying fresh vegetables, fruits, and meats, and then another two hours making an elaborate meal, Dr. Ozner’s recipes are easy, convenient, and more in line with American work schedules and lifestyles. Almost all the ingredients used in his recipes are available at large-box supermarkets that feature a health food section or a gourmet section.
Here are two sample recipes from the book. Each one only contains six ingredients:
Syrian Cucumber and Yogurt Salad
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly crushed garlic
1/8 teaspoon minced fresh dill
Salt to taste
1 quart plain low-fat yogurt
2 English cucumbers, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons dried mint
In a bowl combine garlic, dill, and salt. Add yogurt and mix well. Stir in cucumbers and mint. Cover, and refrigerate until well chilled before serving.
Baby Shrimp and Mozzarella Cheese Personal Pizza
1 flat wrap
1 tablespoon market-fresh basil pesto
1/2 cup cooked baby salad shrimp, defrosted (if frozen) and well drained
4 small pitted black olives, drained and sliced
1/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
Dried chives to sprinkle
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place wrap on a baking sheet and spread pesto evenly over surface of wrap. Scatter well-drained shrimp over pesto, add olives, and top with cheese. Sprinkle chives over cheese and bake until cheese begins to bubble. Remove from oven and serve hot.
Remember, using Dr. Ozner’s methodology requires changing your lifestyle in addition to changing your eating habits. While it may seem like a lot of effort, compare it with the amount of effort necessary to maintain control of a chronic illness like heart disease. When you look at the two alternatives side-by-side, making a full commitment to Dr. Ozner’s life plan doesn’t seem that bad at all.