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updated: 1/18/2011 12:16 PM

Lean and lovin' it column by Don Mauer: Expounding the benefits of a Mediterranean diet

Lean and Lovin' It

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We've all read that forming a food plan around the way Mediterranean folks live can mean healthy eating. But, what goes into a Mediterranean diet?

If you say a Mediterranean diet includes fresh fruits and vegetables, you're correct. If you include whole grains, nuts and seeds, again, you'd be right.

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If, without hesitation, you extended the list to include legumes (beans), seafood, yogurt, olive oil and some wine, you're fairly knowledgeable. But, if you went on to describe a Mediterranean diet as one elevating omega-3 fatty acids (currently considered healthy) and reducing omega-6 fatty acids (not unhealthy, but needs to be limited), you're either a dietitian or a healthy diet expert.

So now that we all know this, just how do we integrate the Mediterranean diet's components into our meals?

The answers can be found in the pages of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Mediterranean Diet" (Alpha Books, $18.95) written by two dietitians, one who happens to also be a chef.

Crack open the cover and you'll first see a section that brings everyone up to speed on just why a Mediterranean diet is a healthy one.

As you progress further the authors, Kimberly Tessmer (the dietitian) and Stephanie Green (the chef/dietitian) explain the diet's components. They compare a Mediterranean diet to other food plans, including Atkins, Ornish and the Zone, and follow with ways to transition from your current food plan to a Mediterranean one.

Next, you'll learn about olive oil; a very important component to this diet. Here the authors cover everything from olive oil's history to its nutritional makeup, as well as how to handle, cook and bake with it.

In the following chapters you'll learn about whole grains, Mediterranean diet-friendly fruits, vegetables, seafood, nuts, seeds and legumes, proteins and herbs and spices. If you complete all that reading (200-plus pages) you'll be a "Jeopardy!"-worthy Mediterranean diet expert, ready to take on all your friends' and family's questions.

The final 100 pages include more than 75 recipes complete with nutrition information so you can make educated, mealtime decisions about each recipe.

Here's a recipe shortlist: roasted red pepper tapenade (peppers, olives, tomato and garlic blended with olive oil), stuffed dates (dates filled with goat cheese, Italian sausage and almonds), crab cakes (light mayo, Italian bread crumbs, onions, peppers and of course -- crab), tomato basil soup, spinach, orange and feta salad, sole Florentine (sole fillets stuffed with spinach, tomatoes, garlic and shallots), two-cheese risotto, curried cauliflower, lamb patties and pasta, berry sorbet (raspberries and strawberries), and orange rice pudding.

Tessmer and Green make heading toward a Mediterranean food plan easy to understand and provide tasty, easy, clearly written recipes to get you headed in the right direction.

Try this recipe: You wouldn't buy a car without taking it out for a test drive, would you? Here a recipe to make at home if you're considering this book.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at don@theleanwizard.com.

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