Monthly Health Message:

Mediterranean Diet Tips

December 2016

Karen Ensle Ed.D., RDN, FAND, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

A healthy diet begins with small steps. Here are some tips that will help you eat a healthier overall diet:

Tip 1: Replace butter and margarine with healthy oils as often as possible. Use olive oil, a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, as your primary oil for cooking and baking. A high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, seasoned with balsamic vinegar is delicious for dipping bread and is a healthier alternative to butter. Other plant-based oils, such as canola or walnut oil, are also rich in heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Tip 2: Switch up your proteins. Swap out most of your red meat and get your protein from skinless chicken and turkey, fish, beans, nuts and other plants. Start by making a few small changes. Aim to eat fish of any kind—except for fried, of course, twice a week. Salmon or tuna are rich in omega-3s, a type of polyunsaturated fat linked with improved heart health. The focus of the meal should be whole grains and vegetables. Think of meat as a flavoring rather than the mainstay of the meal. If you do have a hankering for a steak, it’s okay occasionally but choose a lean cut, like top loin, sirloin, flank steak or strip steak, and limit your portion size to 3 to 4 ounces.

Tip 3: Eat veggies at meals and for snacks. Aim for 3 to 6 servings of vegetables a day. A serving size is ½ to 2 cups depending on the vegetable and whether it is cooked or raw. Pick vegetables in a variety of colors to get a range of antioxidants and vitamins. Big green salads are a great way to include several vegetable servings at once. Make sure you eat a variety of vegetables cooked and raw each day.

Tip 4: Consume whole-grain bread, pasta, rice and other grains. Experiment with “real” whole grains that are still in their “whole” form. Quinoa, a grain that was a staple in the ancient Incas’ diet, cooks up in just 20 minutes. Barley is full of fiber and is filling. Try pairing it with mushrooms for a steamy, satisfying soup. Eating oatmeal is perfect for breakfast on a cold winter morning and even popcorn is a whole grain. Try whole-wheat bread and pasta instead of refined products. Look on the nutrition facts label for the term “whole” or “whole grain” and also in the ingredient list. Whole grain products are healthiest if “whole grain” is listed as the first ingredient.

Tip 5: Snack on nuts, seeds or low-fat cheese or dairy instead of processed snack foods. Snack on a handful of almonds, walnuts, or sunflower seeds in place of chips, cookies or other processed snack foods, often loaded with sugars, saturated fat, and transfats. Calcium-rich low-fat cheese or low-fat and nonfat yogurt with fresh fruit are other healthy and portable snacks.

Tip 6: Enjoy fruit for dessert. Generally a good source of fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants, fresh fruit is a healthy way to indulge your sweet tooth. If it helps you to eat more, drizzle slices of pear with honey or sprinkle a little brown sugar on grapefruit. Keep fresh fruit visible at home and keep a piece or two at work so you have a healthful snack when your stomach starts growling.

Tip 7: If you drink, have no more than one glass with a meal. Alcohol adds extra calories, should not be consumed if driving a vehicle. It appears to raise “good” HDL cholesterol and wine, in particular, “thins” the blood, making it less prone to clotting. Wine also contains antioxidants that prevent your arteries from taking up LDL cholesterol, a process that can lead to plaque buildup. Remember, “1 drink” equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of hard liquor.

Tip 8: Set aside enough time to savor every bite. Instead of gobbling your meal in front of the TV, slow down and sit down at a table with family and friends to savor what you’re eating. Not only will you enjoy your company and your food, eating slowly allows you to tune in to your body’s hunger and fullness signals. You’re more apt to eat just until you’re satisfied.

Take small steps each day to eat healthier, practice behavior modification to help you make better food choices. Have a happy and healthy holiday season.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences