Counseling Helps Women Switch to Mediterranean Diet

In just three months, a group of women doubled their fruit and vegetable intake through dietary counseling. University of Michigan researchers helped 69 women switch to a Mediterranean diet through face-to-face interviews, provision of a food exchange list, and phone counseling. The women were able to make beneficial changes in their diet by simply substituting good fat for bad. Caloric intake remained the same.

Adopting a Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce mortality from diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. In the current study, the women successfully switched to a Mediterranean diet in three months, and continued to follow the diet for six months.

The women were divided into two groups. One group received guidelines from a registered dietician regarding food exchanges that provided the same number of calories contained in the women’s regular diet, but replacing bad fat with good fat. Included in the exchange were dark green leafy vegetables, and high monosaturated fat such as olive oil. The second group received a free counseling session regarding diet. Women lacking specific vitamins and minerals in their diet received a list of foods containing the nutrients, in addition to the National Cancer Institute’s “Action Guide to Healthy Eating.” The researchers found that women who did not receive counseling made few changes in their diet.

According to lead author Zora Djuric, Ph.D., research professor of Family Medicine at the U-M Medical School, “That tells us that the exchange list was helpful in assisting women to make major changes in their diet, without changes in their caloric or total fat intake.”

Specific changes that can be made when switching to a Mediterranean diet, used in the current study include the following:

•Incorporate one or more servings a day of yellow and orange vegetables (carrots,
pumpkin, and red bell peppers). Include salsa, tomatoes and tomato sauce.

•Include other vegetables such as sugar snap peas, green beans, artichokes and cucumbers. Eat one serving per day of spinach, broccoli or other dark green vegetables.

•Add herbs such as cilantro, sage, basil and peppermint (one tablespoon or more each

•Get your vitamin C from oranges, strawberries and mangos (one or more servings per

•Consume eight to ten servings daily of high monosaturated fats (macadamia nuts,
olive oil, avocado, or hazelnut oil). Avoid corn oil and margarine altogether.

•Eat apples, bananas, grapes and other vegetables throughout the day.

•Replace one food in your diet with garlic, leek or onion.

•A recent study also suggests that adding walnuts, almonds or mixed nuts boosts the
health benefits of a Mediterranean diet.

Research, focused on the health benefits of food, continues to show that the Mediterranean diet is a powerful way to fight disease. The women in the UM study were able to get the same nutrients found in a Mediterranean diet, using American foods.

The study is published in the December issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Women double fruit, veggie intake with switch to Mediterranean diet

Kathleen Blanchard RN