The Mediterranean Diet: Heart Healthy and Delicious

By Michael Russell, recent Arizona State University Nutrition Communications Student

Becoming a nutrition communications student has introduced me to several wonderful diets and reasons to start eating healthier.  As a part of one particular class we had to choose a diet, live by it for a week, and report on our success.  As I thumbed through the diet choices one stuck out at me because of its emphasis on heart health. That diet was the Mediterranean Diet.

Red Salmon Salad with fresh garden tomatoes, basil, parsley, lettuce, onion, pears on white plate

Our hearts play a vital role in supplying our essential organs with oxygen rich blood; it is our engine.  If you put the wrong fuel into your car engine then over time it will gunk up and stop working, well our hearts will do the same thing if we continue to put unhealthy food into our bodies.  The Mediterranean Diet helps us choose healthy proteins, fats, and oils to keep our heart running at its optimum level.


The Mediterranean Diet


This diet originates from the foods eaten by those bordering the Mediterranean Sea, so areas like Southern Italy, Greece and Crete.  In our minds we think of these countries eating foods like pizza, gyros, falafel, and drinking several bottles of wine.  That theory is simply not true and is due to an American lifestyle of adding in calories to pump up meals to fill our growing nation, according to the experts.


The Mediterranean Diet is based on limiting red meats and sweets and eating a lot of fish, fresh vegetables, nuts, and whole grains.  They choose to eat basic foods instead of processed foods and include daily exercise and sharing meals with loved ones.  Yes, they do drink red wine but one to two glasses, not a bottle and choose red wine over hard liquor.  Let us take a look at some of the health benefits the Mediterranean Diet is aligned to:


  • Protects against type 2 diabetes. Because of its use of fresh vegetables, it introduces a greats source of fiber which can help to prevent huge swings in blood sugar.
  • Helps prevent heart disease and stroke. As I mentioned before with the diet’s choice to eat whole grain as opposed to refined breads, homegrown and basic foods instead of processed foods, and drinking a glass or two of red wine versus hard liquor, this diet shows links to prevent heart disease and stroke.
  • Keeps you agile in your later years. As we age our muscles become weaker due to inactivity and poor diet.  The Mediterranean Diet has shown to increase muscle strength and other signs of frailty in seniors by 70 percent.
  • Reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s has been linked to an increase in cholesterol and blood sugar levels as well has poor blood vessel health.  All these factors are improved by adopting the Mediterranean Diet.
  • Helps to halve the risk of Parkinson’s disease. This diet is high in antioxidants, because of this reason our body has a lesser chance of going through the process of oxidative stress which practically cuts the chance of Parkinson’s in half, according to those who have researched this diet.


Because of these great health benefits and also that a diet like this helps to protect the body from developing a host of cancers our chance of a long and enjoyable life is greatly improved.


How to Follow the Mediterranean Diet:


I have already mentioned some diet choices the Mediterranean Diet follows but I want to go in depth on the choices we should make in order to live according to this particular diet:


  • Vegetables are key. By now, we should know the health benefits of eating vegetables.  They provide an excellent source of fiber which in important to healthy digestive tract as well as lower our blood sugar levels.  Try eating a plate of sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, lightly salted with some feta cheese or top a pizza with an assortment of roasted vegetables such as eggplant, peppers, garlic, and shallot as opposed to pepperoni and sausage.  Salad, soups and stews are also a great way to get more vegetables into your diet.
  • Balance your meat intake. We now have more than 29 cuts of lean meat in beef. Portion size is key. You don’t need to overeat on your red meats. Plus, a variety of meats like lamb, pork and chicken should all be considered.
  • The most important meal of the day. Breakfast is essential to starting your day off right and instead of eating two or three doughnuts followed by a gallon of coffee try whole grains and fruits. Eating these types of foods at breakfast will keep you feeling full for hours and treat your body right.
  • Cast a line. Try to eat fish at least twice a week.  Fish like tuna, salmon, herring and black cod are all rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, the good fat.  For those of you who love shellfish, oysters, mussels, and clams can help with heart and brain health.  Choose a whole grain pasta and top it with mussels cooked in a white or red sauce with plenty of garlic and a crunchy whole grain loaf of bread for dipping.
  • Eat a vegetarian meal once a week. Once a week build a meal around beans, vegetables, and whole grains.  At a minimum try to have an array of vegetables on a regular basis.
  • The right kind of fats. Healthy fats can be found in such options as extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts, sunflower seeds, and olives.
  • Enjoy dairy products. Research has shown that full dairy products have been proven to make you feel fuller faster so ingesting natural cheeses and Greek yogurt may lead to less body fat and lower levels of obesity.
  • How about dessert? This may be the true test for some us because having something sweet after dinner is almost a given but instead of eating cake and cookies try a bowl of fresh fruit.  I know this may sound boring but if you couple some dairy with your fresh fruit it could change the way you look at fruit as a dessert.  For instance, try grilling peaches to caramelize their natural sugars, remove the pit and add some vanilla Greek yogurt in the middle.


Eating right is a start but the Mediterranean Diet also includes daily exercise and eating with loved ones.  These two lifestyle changes can help to stave off depression and unwanted pounds.  I know I want to live a full and healthy life and the Mediterranean Diet will help me achieve that goal.






  1. Mediterranean Diet 101 | Oldways. (2016). org. Retrieved 9 April 2016, from
  2. Mediterranean diet for heart health – Mayo Clinic. (2016). org. Retrieved 9 April 2016, from
  3. The Mediterranean Diet | The State Times. (2016). com. Retrieved 9 April 2016, from
  4. The Mediterranean Diet: Myths, Facts, and Health Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet. (2016). org. Retrieved 9 April 2016, from



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Funky Fermented Foods

By Jacob Gerdes, Arizona State Nutrition Communications Student

Food producers are always trying to create new ways to market healthy food to consumers. They’ll use health claims, create new trends, and occasionally bring back old trends. Probiotics are marketed to consumers in a way that makes them seem new and exciting and as if they offer some sort of health benefit never before used. The truth is, probiotics are far from new, in fact fermentation, the process used to create probiotics, has been used by many cultures throughout history.


According to Food and Nutrition magazine, an affiliate magazine of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, fermented foods date back to 6000 B.C. with origins in the Fertile Crescent. So has anything changed about fermentation? Well if you do not count the marketing ploys used to sell probiotics to consumers, then no.


Let’s take a look into the actual fermentation process, what exactly are probiotics, how fermented foods are beneficial to everyone’s diet, and some common foods that could be easily found in your grocery store.


So, what’s This thing called Fermentation?

To understand fermentation we’ll use a quick and oversimplified explanation from the Encyclopedia Britannica. Fermentation is the anaerobic (without oxygen) breakdown of glucose or simple sugars. The organism involved with this process, are bacteria or other microscopic organisms; they are able to break down these molecules without oxygen and create the byproduct of Carbon Dioxide (CO2); just one among many other byproducts. This is the same process that adds the fizz to your beer. In beer’s case, yeast assumes the task of breakdown. If you have ever tried Kombucha, its fizziness is from the same cause.


How is this related to health? It’s all about the microorganisms.

The glucose acts as food and stimulates the reproduction of the bacteria. Your body’s intestinal tract is lined with billions of diverse microbes and occasionally your body can develop an imbalance between harmful bacteria/yeast and the good bacteria. As the good bacteria acts as a defense against different pathogens, it also helps aid digestion. The goal of health is to maintain the proper balance and diversity of the good gut bacteria.


Probiotics, usually a fermented dairy culture, come in many forms such as food and supplements. And, they help restore balance. The Mayo clinic claims that it is not necessary to consume a probiotic but it may be beneficial in restoring your guts living environment.


The many benefits

A scientific review published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology list the benefits of probiotics in the diet including:


  • Improving intestinal tract health
  • Enhancing the immune system, synthesizing and enhancing the bioavailability of nutrients
  • Reducing symptoms of lactose intolerance, decreasing the prevalence of allergy in susceptible individuals
  • Reducing risk of certain cancers


The use of probiotics has many health benefits but my favorite aspect regarding probiotics is that they can make a tasty and interesting treat. Some well-known examples of probiotics include Miso, tempeh, Pickles (my favorite), Sauerkraut (my second favorite), Kimchi, yogurt, and kefir. If lactose negatively affects your digestion, stick with the first five on the list. All of them can add an interesting flavor to any dish or can be eaten on their own.


Many grocery stores have refrigerated versions of these foods; refrigeration preserves the amount of living cultures within the foods. Another favorite fermented item of mine is Kombucha, which I mentioned earlier. Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that is widely sold in many grocery and convenience stores.


Common Foods

Another great thing about fermented foods is the fact that they are traditionally a homemade food that can be easily sustained. There are endless pickling and fermenting recipes that create a great opportunity to educate your children, friends, or other loved ones on chemistry, health, history and also offer the opportunity to be adventurous, try a new food, and create your own healthy meals. I personally have brewed my own Kombucha and flavored the batch with seasonal fruits from local farms. The idea is to avoid being influenced by marketers trying to sell you an old idea for high prices. If just you put in a little effort, you will learn the skill of fermentation and can enjoy your work and reap the benefits of health.


Next time you go shopping, try a fermented food or beverage (other than beer). Kombucha is as easy as grabbing a small bottle from the grocery store and drinking it on your drive home. I promise life is better with a little bit of fermenting funk in it!


Learn more about fermented foods here!




  1. Foroutan R. The History and Health Benefits of Fermented Food. Food and Nutrition Magazine Website. Published February 2, 2012. Accessed April 20, 2016. URL:


  1. The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. Fermentation. Encyclopedia Britannica Website. Updated February 4, 2016. Accessed April 20, 2016. URL:


  1. Zeratsky K. Do I need probiotics and prebitotics in my diet?. Mayo Clinic Consumer Health Website. Published October 15, 2014. Accessed April 20, 2016. URL:


  1. Parvez S, Malik KA, Ah Kang S, Kim HY. Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health. J Appl Microbiol. Published June 2006; 100(6):1171-85. Accessed April 20, 2016. URL:







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Soup News

By Angela C Torrence, Recent ASU Nutrition Student


The season for soup will soon be here. I am so excited to make new combinations of vegetables, broth, herbs and seasonings! There is nothing more satisfying than a great bowl of warm soup and some hearty bread as the weather cools. A healthy love for soup is a great thing! One study put out by the British Journal of Nutrition found that if you eat soup, you might be ingesting less calories and have an overall better diet quality!


The study found that soup consumers had a lower waist circumference and a lower BMI.  People who consumed soup had a lower intake of fat, and a higher intake of minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, iron, copper, and potassium, but they also had a higher intake of sodium. The study looked at the food groups including fruit, vegetable/legume, and whole grain intake by non-consumers and soup consumers and found that the overall diet quality of soup consumers was higher than non-consumers. In fact, it was found that soup consumers had a higher intake of dietary fiber which helps with controlling blood sugar and helps with GI health too!


All of these findings go to show that if you want this comfort food, go ahead; make it! Soup can even act as an appetite-suppressant for a short period of time. It is great for hydration because it has so much water, but be careful not to add too much salt. The research identified higher levels of sodium in soup consumers compared with non-consumers.


One of my favorite soups is a vegetable lentil soup largely from a Martha Stewart recipe but slightly modified to my preferences. It is warm, hearty, filling, and really hits the spot with some excellent bread and olive oil.


Vegetable Lentil Soup

2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, chopped (3/4 cup)

2 carrots, peeled and chopped (3/4 cup)

2 celery stalks, peeled and chopped (2/3 cup)

3 garlic cloves, minced (1 tablespoon)

1 tablespoon coarse salt

1 small tomato, chopped (1/3 cup)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cups brown or green lentils

2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

ground black pepper

6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth

4 cups water, plus more if needed


Heat a large soup pot over high heat and swirl in the olive oil. Add the onion, carrots, celery, garlic, cumin, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Reduce the heat to low and saute until the vegetables are lightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 2 minutes.


Add the lentils, thyme, bay leaf, pepper, and the remaining salt. Add the broth and water, and bring to a boil, skimming and discarding any foam as it rises to the surface. Reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. (The cooking time depends on the age of the dried lentils.) Season to taste with salt and pepper. If needed, thin the soup with additional water or broth for the desired consistency.


If you don’t take some time out of your life to learn a few really great soups to enjoy, you are really missing out! Try this one to start, and make it your own. Enjoy!


More soup posts from Fill Your Plate:

1. 27 Easy Soup Recipes

2. Snuggle Up with Some Soup

3. Little Known Facts About Vegetable Soup

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Mini Pear Pies: A New Fall Favorite

By Lisa Kaschmitter, recent Arizona State University Nutrition Student


Fall is just around the corner and for those of us in love with this time of year, we’re already gathering our favorite recipes with plans to cook. A fall favorite of my entire family has always been pumpkin pie. We look forward to it all year, so this fall the possible pumpkin shortage has been the topic of conversation more than once around the dinner table.  This possible shortage stems from Illinois where nearly ninety percent of the pumpkins in the U.S. are grown. Illinois has experienced heavy rains this year that have wiped out and delayed pumpkin crop growth throughout the state. This means that canned pumpkin at the grocery store may be in short supply this season.


Although it is hard to beat pumpkin pie for my family, we decided that this year we would be prepared to try something new. There is a long list of pie worthy fillings that are in season during the fall: sweet potatoes, apples, pears, and figs are all great choices. Personally pears are one of my favorite healthy fall flavors, and one medium pear boasts 6 grams of fiber, 206 mg of potassium, vitamin B6, magnesium, and vitamin C.


I recently discovered a recipe for mini pear pies, from Paul Hollywood that was featured on The Great British Bake Off. These pies are so beautifully unique looking that I couldn’t wait to try my hand at making them. I combined Paul’s recipe for poached pears and syrup, while utilizing a recipe for puff pastry by Winnie Abramson that I had used in the past with success.



One of my favorite things about this recipe is that if utilizes pears while they are in season and at their peak of nutrient retention and freshness. It is also great that these are designed to be individual pies, so each person gets a whole piece of fruit, and there is no fussing with trying to get that first piece of pie out of the pan! Also everything can be prepped ahead of time. The puff pastry, poached pears, and syrup will all be fine in the refrigerator for a few days before your event, just leaving assembling and baking for the day of!


The puff pastry dough is the most difficult part of this recipe. It is important that puff pastry dough remains cold during the whole process, so it each time if got a little too warm, I had to stop for 30 minutes so that the dough could chill in the refrigerator. It would simplify the process to use frozen puff pastry from the store, however, many store bought puff pastries have added ingredients and preservatives that you would not include if made at home.

*makes 6 pies


For the puff pastry

  • 2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 ¼ cups cake flour
  • ½ tablespoon salt
  • 1 ¼ cups very cold water (I chilled with ice and strained immediately before use)
  • 1 pound very cold unsalted butter


  1. Combine flours, and salt into a food processor. If your food processor will not hold all ingredients make the dough in two batches and combine. Pulse the food processor until flours and salt are just combined.
  2. Add all water into the processor and pulse until a ball of dough forms. The dough should feel moist and when squeezed should hold together.
  3. Remove the dough and form it into a ball.
  4. Wrap the dough in a damp towel and refrigerate for at least 5 minutes.
  5. While dough is chilling, place butter between 2 sheets of plastic wrap. Beat the butter with a rolling pin until it flattens into a square that is about 1 inch thick. The butter needs to remain cold, so if you notice softening or oiliness forming, place in refrigerator or freezer and allow the butter to chill before continuing.
  6. Unwrap your dough and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a 10-inch square. Place the chilled butter in the center. Fold and stretch the dough to fully encase the butter inside the dough. (Remember it is important for this dough to stay cold. To keep your dough cold you can stop at any point, cover the dough in plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator.)
  7. Roll the dough into a rectangle that is approximately 24 inches long. Fold this rectangle by thirds, like you would fold a letter. Rotate the folded dough to the left so that the closed fold is on your left.
  8.  Repeat the process of rolling out a 24-inch rectangle, folding it in thirds and rotating it. I chilled my dough after this second time for 30 minutes.
  9. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out 4 more times, chilling when needed.
  10. Chill pastry dough for at least an hour.

For the poached pears

  • 6 large, firm pears (preferably ones that are straight and tall)
  • 1 ½ cup sugar
  • 18fl oz dry white wine
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 orange zest only

Preparation method

  1. Peel the pears, keeping the stems intact.
  2. Combine 14fl oz water, the white wine, cinnamon, orange zest, and sugar, slowly bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for three minutes.
  3. Add the pears to the pan. Bring back to the boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Reserving the syrup, remove the pears from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool on kitchen paper. Using a melon baller or small teaspoon remove the core from the pears.
  4. Return the syrup to the heat and boil rapidly for 10-15 minutes until the volume of the liquid is reduced by half and the syrup is thick. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
  5. Chill the poached pears until cold.

Putting it all together

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  2. Using a sharp knife and a ruler cut the pastry into long strips ½ inch wide. You will need about 18-20 strips.
  3. Brush the pears with the cooled sugar syrup and starting from the bottom, wrap the pastry strips around the pears. When you come to the end of the pastry strip, brush the end lightly with syrup and press to adhere to the next pastry strip. Continue wrapping until you reach the top of the pear. (Three strips should cover each pear). Tuck the end of the last pastry piece behind the previous dough spiral.
  4. Place the pastry-covered pears on a baking tray. Brush the pastry with beaten egg and sprinkle with the granulated sugar. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
  1. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10-15 minutes then serve with a drizzle of the reduced sugar syrup.


Whether you are enjoying the fruits of your labor on a quiet night at home, or at a fall get-together, these mini pear pies will impress all with their uniqueness, beauty, and mostly their flavor! Dig in!


If you liked this article, try this one too: 50 Ways to Use Pears 


Recipe sources

Mini Pear Pies:


Puff Pastry:

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Treat yourself to some Dark Chocolate

By Jacob Gerdes, Arizona State Nutrition Communications Student.

 Cravings for a sweet treat may nag at us occasionally and normally we feel the need to restrict ourselves because of the perceived health implications sugary treats may have. We must take back control and allow ourselves to responsibly indulge, and if you choose to indulge in dark chocolate then you are actually benefiting your health more than you may be aware.


According to an article published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, there is extensive evidence that cocoa-rich dark chocolate has an abundant amount of flavonoids which are pigments found within the cocoa plant that act as a potent anti-oxidant providing protection from cardiovascular disease. Another article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition list that a short-term benefit of dark chocolate is a significant increase in insulin sensitivity helping normalize blood sugar levels.

Nitric Oxide is a compound the body produces to dilate the blood vessels causing an increase in circulation. At one point in time, many researchers argued whether or not the evidence supporting the increase in the bio-availability of Nitric Oxide from dark chocolate was significant, however, the association is now relatively solidified.

Recently, researchers out of Kingston University discovered a new opportunity for athletes to utilize dark chocolate for their competition. The study found that due to the effect on nitric oxide in the body, blood vessels dilate which decreases oxygen consumption allowing endurance athletes to work for longer periods. This discovery is significant for any cyclist or runners trying to increase their performance.

Endurance athletes are not the only individuals that will benefit from this rich treat. Everyone could use some dark chocolate in their lives.

When looking for dark chocolate to purchase, think low sugar, low fat, and the higher cocoa content the better. The taste preference is similar to coffee, some like it dark and some prefer some cream and sugar; just know that darker is better.  Once you have made your choice, treat yourself to the recommended serving on the package or a little more if you’re really feeling the cravings! You can bake with it, melt it over oatmeal, or eat it by itself. The choice is yours!

Now go out and get yourself a guilt free treat. Enjoy dark chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth while bettering your health!


Another Dark Chocolate Article from Fill Your Plate! 


  1. Galleano M, Oteiza PI, Fraga CG. Cocoa, chocolate, and cardiovascular disease. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol. Published December 1, 2009; 54(6): 483–490. Accessed April 24, 2016. URL:


  1. Grassi D, Lippi C, Necozione S, Desideri G, Ferri C. Short-term administration of dark chocolate is followed by a significant increase in insulin sensitivity and a decrease in blood pressure in healthy persons. Am J Clin Nutr. Published March 2005; 81(3):611-614. Accessed April 24, 2016. URL:


  1. Kingston University. Eating dark chocolate as a daily snack could help boost athletic performance. ScienceDaily Website. Published April 19, 2016. Accessed April 24, 2016. URL:



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