Mediterranean, Asian and Ayurvedic diets are among the world’s healthiest, largely because plant-based foods form the core of each. Whole grains, legumes and produce take center stage, and meat acts as a garnish.
The world’s most nutritious diets are simple: They tell us to consume less meat and processed foods, but eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. Cultural twists keep those basics interesting.
Eating is about enjoyment in most Mediterranean cultures. And why wouldn’t it be, when you can have olives and nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and sheep’s-milk yogurt year-round? A little fresh fish, poultry or eggs and maybe red meat every couple of weeks adds nutrition and enjoyment. A glass of red wine completes a meal.
This breakfast treat, snack or dessert showcases Mediterranean figs, dates, nuts, honey and spices. Try it with an anise-flavored liqueur such as ouzo or a demitasse of espresso.
Enticed? Try this for a Mediterannean diet:
• Eat less meat. Have it every few days or with every other meal.
• Choose fresh fish. Eat salmon and sardines, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, several times a week.
• Chooe fruits and nuts. Put more of them in meals, snacks and desserts.
• Consume more olive oil. It should be your primary fat, instead of butter.
• Go veggie. Beans, lentils and whole grains make great main dishes.
• Use cheese to flavor. Small amounts of low-fat cheese such as feta or Parmesan enhance other foods’ flavors.
Low-fat plant foods in small portions, beautifully prepared and presented, are the staple of Southeast Asian diets. Traditional daily fare includes rice, noodles, land and sea vegetables, soy foods, fruits and tea, with occasional indulgences in dairy products and sweets. Shavings of red meat flavor plant-based meals.
This Asian classic is a great way to get a rainbow of vegetables in one dish. You can substitute boneless, skinless chicken breast or shrimp for the tofu.
A Southeast Asian diet is as simple as this:
• Eat Asian veggies. Expand your repertoire; spice up your meals with healthy bok choy, Chinese eggplant, bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts and sea vegetables (arame, nori and kombu).
• Drink tea. Make it at home. It’s tastier and less expensive, and bottled brands often contain high-fructose corn syrup. Make it your main beverage—hot or iced. If you prefer it sweet, try honey.
• Replace meat. Eat brown rice, beans and vegetables instead (when they’re combined, they form more complete proteins).
• Eat soy. Tofu, tempeh and whole soybeans can be your main sources of lean protein.
• Make it beautiful. Tastefully arrange small portions on an attractive plate. Admire it before you eat it.
The ancient Ayurvedic healing system—a sister science to yoga—regards food as preventive medicine for body, mind and spirit. The Ayurvedic diet emphasizes pure (sattvic) foods that promote the body’s life-force energy (prana). Daily meals are founded on soy foods, fresh vegetables and organic whole grains such as basmati rice, mung and adzuki beans, lentils and dried split peas. The diet also includes daily portions of fresh organic fruits, clarified butter (ghee), fresh dairy products, herbs and spices, and occasional small amounts of fish, poultry and sweets.
The Ayurvedic diet is based on the individual’s mind-body type or dosha: vata (air), pitta (fire) or kapha (earth). Knowing how to feed your dosha type lets you customize your diet for perfect health. An Ayurvedic physician can best determine your dosha, but the following characteristics with matching diet tips will help you get started. (Visit http://store.chopra.com/dosha-survey.asp to learn more about your dosha.)
Raita Yogurt Salad Lettuce Wraps
Serve this Ayurvedic yogurt salad as an appetizer or as a refreshing accompaniment to any meal. (It is appropriate for all dosha types.)
What’s Your Dosha? Find your Ayurvedic diet:
• Vata: Has a thin, light-boned body; is emotional, excitable, unpredictable and prone to stress, anxiety and fear. The vata-balancing diet includes warm, creamy, well-cooked foods prepared with oils or ghee. Cold, raw foods should be reduced.
• Pitta: Has a medium-size, well-proportioned, athletic build; is passionate, intense, determined and subject to anger and irritability. The pitta-balancing diet includes cool or warm, moderately heavy foods. Hot, spicy foods should be reduced or avoided.
• Kapha: Has a large, heavy and powerful build; has high endurance; is tolerant, stable and loyal, but tends to be sluggish and susceptible to obesity and depression. The kapha-balancing diet includes warm, light and spicy foods with little or no oil and sugar. Cold, heavy or sweet foods should be reduced or avoided.