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Spices and the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

April 13, 2010

Did you know that Oldways updated the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid last year? Well, we did, and one of the major changes involved adding herbs and spices to the base of the pyramid, along with fruits, vegetables, grains (mostly whole), olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes and seeds. Being added to the bottom of the diet pyramid means that spices are incredibly healthy and should be consumed frequently. The reason? I’ll let Barbara Quinn from the Miami Herald explain:

“Besides making foods that are good for us taste even better, herbs and spices are surprising sources of antioxidants — natural plant substances that protect our cells from “free radical” damage and help prevent chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.” (via)

Sounds good to me! But I wonder: how can I spice up my life, without listening to that British girl group from the 90s? Here’s a few tips from the McCormick Spice gang:

  • Stir ½ teaspoon oregano leaves and 1 to 2 tablespoons reduced fat feta cheese into ½ cup bottled vinaigrette salad dressing. Viola! Greek vinaigrette.
  • Sauté 1 pound of sliced mushrooms in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon thyme leaves. (Thyme brings out the flavor of mushrooms.)
  • Add rosemary leaves to vegetables like asparagus, spinach and tomatoes.
  • Mix up a batch of Mediterranean spiced olive oil: 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese, ½ teaspoon garlic powder, 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper and a dash of sea salt. Pour into a small shallow dish and serve with bread. Yum!

With Mediterranean Month only 18 days away, how do YOU plan on using more herbs and spices in your regular cooking routine?

– Alison

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2010 6:26 pm

    Which spices would be considered “Mediterranean”?

    Here’s my list of the most common:

    cumin, paprika, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, coriander, anise, Spanish saffron, lemon, mint, parsley, garlic, dill, pepper, and sumac.

    Are any of these healthier than the others? Hard to say. But remember, variety is the spice of life.

    -Steve

  2. April 14, 2010 8:27 pm

    Hate to sound like a nit picker, Steve, but your list includes both herbs and spices. Others to add
    that are popular in the Mediterranean: bay leaves, chilies, cloves, fennel, lavender, marjoram, oregano, sage, tarragon, thyme, and then the important blends such as zatar or herbes de provence. The Mediterranean is a really diverse region, and includes Arab cooking, plus the cuisines of North Africa, southern France, Italy and Spain, so there are lots of regional flavorings to consider.

    In general, herbs and spices are rich in a broad range of health-promoting antioxidants, but it’s hard to back up a claim that one is healthier than another, in part because many dishes use a combination of several, and they are rarely eaten on their own. There have been some interesting studies about the combination of cinnamon and raw honey helping to defend the body against a range of illnesses, and hot, spicy foods in general can have tonic effects. An alcoholic drink called Fernet-Branca is made from several dozen herbs and spices and we’ve heard from people who swear it prevents all kinds of problems and cures colds and hangovers, too. Sort of an acquired taste. We pretty much hold to the idea that the whole diet, well spiced and made from fresh foods, is the best prescription for good health.

    – Georgia

  3. April 17, 2010 12:15 am

    Good points, Georgia.

    I was mixing my herbs and spices. Like when I overlook that tomatoes and avocadoes are fruits, not vegetables.

    -Steve

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