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Mediterranean Fusion: Your Favorite Ethnic Dishes Just Got Heart-Healthier!

Lorena KaplenBy Lorena Asebedo Kaplen
Registered Dietitian, H-E-B

No doubt, diet and culture play a major role in what we eat and the food decisions we make every day. But with so many different cuisines and foods from all over the world available to us, we can embrace other cultures while creating a sense of community. In fact, with cuisine fusions and their endless combinations of flavors, the possibilities are limitless!

One cuisine growing in popularity, because of its possible cardio-protective benefits, is the Mediterranean diet. The foundation of the Mediterranean diet is plant-based foods. It is rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts. Olive oil is used instead of butter. Herbs and spices add flavor instead of salt. Fish and lean poultry are enjoyed at least a few times a week, while red meats are on the menu no more than a few times a month. A daily glass of red wine can be added, if recommended by your health care provider.

Additionally, enjoying meals with family and friends as well as engaging in regular exercise are all part of the Mediterranean lifestyle. The Mediterranean diet is already incorporated into the cuisines of areas surrounding the sea, such as Greek, Italian and Egyptian dishes. Many global cuisines already have many Mediterranean components; other global recipes can be adjusted to make them even healthier.

How can you take this meal pattern and apply it to different cuisines and cultures? Let’s look at a few examples on how to fuse flavors to create a Mediterranean meal pattern.

Mexican rajas con queso: Add extra vegetables such as mushrooms or roasted corn. Serve with a lean grilled meat and a whole grain for a complete meal.

Japanese sushi rolls: Substitute white rice with brown rice, add extra vegetables and use wasabi and/or a salt-free spice blend instead of soy sauce. 

Spanish paella: Use wild rice or brown rice as the base of the recipe and lean sausage, lean red meats, skinless chicken or shrimp for a protein source. Look for a recipe that calls for fresh herbs and controls salt. Add extra chopped vegetables such as eggplant, zucchini or yellow peppers.

Hungarian goulash: Substitute lean ground turkey or beef in the recipe. Use no-salt-added canned tomatoes and sauce. Add extra vegetables such as finely chopped celery, carrots and mushrooms.

Vietnamese pho: Use brown rice noodles, skinless chicken and a low sodium broth as the base ingredients. Up the flavor and nutrients by adding zucchini noodles, additional vegetables and fresh garlic.

Indian tikka masala: Use reduced-fat dairy instead of heavy cream, and control salt in the recipe. Add lentils for an additional protein and fiber source. Toss in chopped bell peppers or diced vegetable of choice. Serve with a whole grain flat bread.

Italian shrimp scampi: Substitute whole grain crusty bread for pasta. Add spinach into the sauté along with a favorite vegetable. Serve with a side of berries for a sweet ending.

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