Many studies over the past several years have linked traditional diet of the Mediterranean countries such as Greece with health benefits such as lowering risk of heart disease and decreasing joint inflammation. In recent years, there have been quite a few Mediterranean recipe books published and at least one weight loss plan has been centered around this style of cuisine. The traditional diet of people in Mediterranean countries tends to include mainly fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood and olive oil both for cooking and flavor. Meat is used more as a garnish and is not generally eaten every day; unlike many of us in the U.S. who were raised with a meat course at every meal or as the centerpiece of the meal.
Additionally, we all know that it's difficult to make lifestyle changes, especially when it comes to eating habits. The idea of healthy eating that we learned from our families may not actually be so healthy. However, without ongoing motivation and encouragement, it can be hard to break those comfort food habits, learn real portion control and even to learn to enjoy vegetables.
A new study, published in the September 2007 issue of the Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases has made findings related to improvement in both RA symptoms and positive eating habits. The study linked a Mediterranean style diet learned in a hands-on cooking class with improvement in RA symptoms. The researchers divided 130 women with RA into two groups: one group attended cooking classes on Mediterranean-style eating. The other group was given written dietary information only. The researchers found that women who attended the classes increased their intake of fruits, vegetables, beans and monounsaturated fats (found in ingredients like olive oil). The women in the classes also reported improvements in pain, morning stiffness and overall health over a period of months. On the other hand, the group of women who received only written information made no significant diet changes and they reported no general improvement in their symptoms.
The researchers concluded that the classes were the reason for the lasting positive outcomes. They found that through the social interaction and hands-on learning, participants' confidence in healthy cooking and eating increased. Also, the women in the study, who were generally from low-income areas, were taught how to use kitchen aids to overcome limited mobility in their hands and were taught ways to include fresh produce and healthy foods into their food budgets. The researchers plan to continue and expand the study of the effects of cooking classes to larger groups affecting more health conditions.
I enjoyed reading about this study because it offered more evidence and encouragement that making relatively simple diet changes can have a positive affect on my daily stiffness and pain. I read a lot and I have a large number of cookbooks, including a great Mediterranean cookbook that I bought on the bookstore bargain rack. But I have to admit, that I haven't experimented with Mediterranean cooking often enough and I have difficulty maintaining a healthy diet all the time. I often crave the heavier German, Polish and Mennonite foods that I grew up with- lots of meat, sausage, pierogies and egg noodles. Plus, I am a fan of affordable cooking classes, especially those offered through my local department of parks and recreation. This study has been good motivation for me to give a more concerted effort to cook more in the Mediterranean style and to find another fun class to try.
To help you get started, here are a few recipes from the Foodfit page that you can try at home. These recipes are tasty and relatively easy, and if you don't have a grill or have limited mobility, I've found that steaming or poaching fish in the microwave (for just a few minutes on a middle-range power setting) works really well and is a definite time and mess saver.
Mediterranean Recipes from FoodFit.com:
Our partner site, FoodFit.com, kindly pulled together a few recipes that adhere to the Mediterranean diet, are pretty easy to prepare and include nutritional information. While we can't offer hands on training, there is a wealth of information available on FoodFit, including recipes, dietary guidelines, fitness tips and tools to help you keep track of calories.
Please let us know if you liked the recipes Bon Appétit!
Greek Chick Pea Salad
Olympic Spinach Salad
Sautéed Bell Peppers with Garlic and Basil
Poached Salmon with Cucumber Dill Sauce
Tuna and White Bean Salad
Sautéed Sea Bass
Simply Grilled Salmon