Roasted Pears Recipe, How to Adopt the Mediterranean Diet, Plus Discover the Easy Ways to Get the Benefits of Olive Oil and Other Healthful Foods
Many issues of The Olive Oil Hunter Newsletter have been devoted to sharing the science behind the health benefits of olive oil and how you can reap them by adopting the well-known Mediterranean Diet. Still, changes to your diet—especially the permanent ones that can add up to longer life—are hard to make. Problem solved: this issue contains suggestions from two of the country’s leading health institutions, the Cleveland Clinic and Harvard Health, on how to adopt and adapt the most important parts of the diet. And to start, here’s a delicious recipe that doesn’t sacrifice anything in the way of taste.
- Roasted Pears
A quick trip to the oven intensifies the flavor of pears—no added sweetener needed. Labneh, a Middle Eastern cultured yogurt with the thickness of sour cream, enhances the pears when plated for dessert. For a hearty breakfast, enjoy them with plain Greek yogurt or its even-thicker cousin from Iceland, skyr.
- 4 Anjou or Bosc pears, ripe but still firm
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup labneh
- 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
- Cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice blend, to taste
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Halve the pears and use a melon baller or small spoon to remove the seeds; cut out any stem with a sharp paring knife. Cut each half lengthwise into 2–3 slices. Place the pear slices on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brush both sides with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes or until the pears are slightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.
Fan the pear slices on each of four plates and top with a large dollop of labneh, chopped nuts, and a light sprinkle of your chosen spice.
Yields 4 servings
Reaping the Benefits of Olive Oil
How to Adopt the Mediterranean Diet
You likely know about its benefits, which range from heart health to brain health, but chances are you haven’t fully adopted it. It can seem more overwhelming at first than it really is. Rather than being a diet with hard-and-fast rules, it’s about taking a thoughtful approach to eating: have more of the healthy foods and fewer of the less healthy ones.
Master the Principles
Here are the food emphasized on the Mediterranean Diet, according to the Cleveland Clinic:
- Lots of vegetables, fruit, beans, lentils, and nuts
- Lots of whole grains, like whole-wheat bread and brown rice
- Plenty of extra virgin olive oil as a source of healthy fat
- A moderate amount of fish, especially fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids
- A moderate amount of cheese and yogurt
- Little or no red meat—choose poultry instead
- Little or no sweets, sugary drinks, or butter
- A moderate amount of wine with meals (but if you don’t already drink, don’t start)
Why is the Mediterranean Diet so good for you? Again, according to the Cleveland Clinic:
- It rebalances the types of fat Americans typically eat. The focus is on healthy unsaturated fats because they promote healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels, support brain health, and fight inflammation. You limit saturated fat, which can raise bad cholesterol and, in turn, the risk of plaque buildup in arteries (it’s also been linked to excess inflammation).
- It prioritizes foods high in fiber and antioxidants. Antioxidants help reduce inflammation, the foundation of many types of diseases. Fiber helps to not only keep you regular but also sweep cholesterol out of your system.
- It limits salt, sugar, and refined carbs. Too much salt is a high blood pressure risk. Refined foods, including sugary ones, can cause blood sugar spikes and usually deliver a lot of calories with little nutritional benefit.
Together, these tenets of the diet translate to important health benefits: a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and being overweight. It improves the quality of the gut microbiome, which is important because a diversity of good bacteria promotes good health. It slows cognitive decline and, overall, helps promote longer life.
Researchers believe these protective benefits are partly due to the healthy fats you eat on the Mediterranean Diet. These come from foods like extra virgin olive oil, nuts, and fish. Speaking of olive oil, here’s how the Cleveland Clinic distinguishes between extra virgin olive oil and lesser types:
“A crucial fact to know before starting the Mediterranean Diet is that not all olive oils are the same. The Mediterranean Diet calls for extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), specifically. That’s because it has a healthy fat ratio. This means EVOO contains more healthy fat (unsaturated) than unhealthy fat (saturated). Aside from its fat ratio, EVOO is healthy because it’s high in antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect your heart and reduce inflammation throughout your body. Because it’s manufactured differently, regular olive oil doesn’t contain these antioxidants.”
Now that you know more about the Mediterranean Diet and why it’s so helpful, you probably want to know where to begin. Experts from Harvard Health offer steps for an easy and gradual transition. Try to incorporate a new one every week or two, and soon they’ll all be second nature:
- Switch to extra virgin olive oil in cooking, as the base for salad dressings, and in place of butter on crusty bread.
- Have a handful of raw nuts every day instead of processed snacks and candy. Olives are great, too.
- Go for whole-grain bread and other whole grains at meals—try bulgur, barley, farro, couscous, whole-grain pasta, and pasta made from legumes.
- Have a dark, leafy green salad plus seasonal veggies at every meal. In all, aim for three to four vegetable servings a day, and have fun by trying a new vegetable every week.
- Discover the world of legumes—try the many varieties of lentils, beans, and dried split peas, plus chickpeas and peanuts. Aim for at least three servings a week.
- Include three servings of fruit a day. Save high-fat, high-sugar desserts for special occasions.
- Think fish first when choosing proteins. Aim for two to three servings a week. When you choose lean poultry, keep portions to 3 or 4 ounces. Use meat as a supporting player in dishes where you can maximize veggies, like stews, stir-fries, and soups.
- If you drink alcohol, substitute wine for other alcoholic beverages, but still stay within healthy guidelines: no more than two 5-ounce glasses per day for men, and one glass per day for women.
Harvard also offers these practical mealtime ideas to put their guidelines into action:
Have oatmeal or an ancient grain, like quinoa or farro, topped with yogurt, fruit, and honey. Or start with plain Greek yogurt and build on that with fresh berries and a sprinkle of nuts.
Have a grain- or legume-based salad, hot or cold, with a variety of vegetables and a fresh cheese like feta, and with a drizzle of a homemade vinaigrette.
Replace meat dishes with fish, especially wild-caught salmon and other fish high in omega-3 fatty acids. Expand meatless Mondays to two or three nights a week with dishes like lentil soup, veggie-stuffed acorn squash, and meatless lasagna.
There are two more aspects of the Mediterranean Diet that I love and get to enjoy on my trips to Italy and Spain for the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club: its emphasis on conviviality—cooking and sharing meals with family and friends—and eating locally sourced foods, which tend to maintain higher levels of nutrients than foods trucked across the country—it’s also better for the environment.Get More Recipes In Your Inbox!