The Oldways Table Blog

Celebrating health,
happiness, heritage,
and delicious,
nutritious food.

May 5, 2016 | Oldways Table

May is International Mediterranean Diet Month, and that's cause for celebration. Why is the Mediterranean diet such a big deal? It benefits your body and your tastebuds, plus it doesn't exclude the good stuff — you can be on a "Med diet" and still enjoy red wine, poultry, and dairy in moderation, and small amounts of sweets and lean meats. In short, the Mediterranean diet is one of the easiest, healthiest, and tastiest non-diets out there.

The science supporting the Med diet has been mounting for a half century and is now conclusive. As the results keep pouring in, even with the recent cardiovascular study, we know the Mediterranean diet is the trifecta of healthy eating — blending easy, affordable, and delicious . And it’s trending, from individuals and families to food bloggers and restaurants, more and more people are tapping into this model for sustainable, healthy eating.

As the world celebrates Mediterranean foods all month long, we invite you to take our quiz — How Mediterranean is Your Diet? — to see how your eating habits stack up to this gold standard for health. Try your hand at some of our favorite Mediterranean diet recipes, or order a copy of our 4-Week Mediterranean Diet Menu Plan book for enough inspiration to last you well into June. Show us how you celebrate on social media with the hashtag #MedDietMonth; follow Oldways on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest to see our mouthwatering Med food photos. And stay tuned for more installments of our Med Diet Month blog series, featuring Q&As with Michael Pollan, Dani Neirenburg of Food Tank, Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou, and more.

Eat Like a Mediterranean (Sung to this tune)

  1. Eat lots of vegetables. From a simple plate of sliced fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and crumbled feta cheese to stunning salads, garlicky greens, fragrant soups and stews, healthy pizzas, or oven-roasted medleys, vegetables are vitally important to the fresh tastes and delicious flavors of the Med Diet.
  2. Change the way you think about meat. If you eat meat, have smaller amounts – small strips of sirloin in a vegetable sauté, or a dish of pasta garnished with diced prosciutto.
  3. Enjoy some dairy products. Eat Greek or plain yogurt, and try smaller amounts of a variety of cheeses.
  4. Eat seafood twice a week. Fish such as tuna, herring, salmon, and sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and shellfish including mussels, oysters, and clams have similar benefits for brain and heart health.
  5. Cook a vegetarian meal one night a week. Build meals around beans, whole grains, and vegetables, and heighten the flavor with fragrant herbs and spices. Down the road, try two nights per week.
  6. Use good fats. Include sources of healthy fats in daily meals, especially extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, olives, and avocados.
  7. Switch to whole grains. Whole grains are naturally rich in many important nutrients; their fuller, nuttier taste and extra fiber keep you satisfied for hours. Cook traditional Mediterranean grains like bulgur, barley, farro and brown, black or red rice, and favor products made with whole grain flour.
  8. For dessert, eat fresh fruit. Choose from a wide range of delicious fresh fruits — from fresh figs and oranges to pomegranates, grapes and apples. Instead of daily ice cream or cookies, save sweets for a special treat or celebration.

Bonus: Try singing "Eat Like a Mediterranean" to this song. We bet you'll be enjoying a Med diet during Med Diet Month and all year long.

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May 3, 2016 | Oldways Table

For two and half decades, as Oldways has explored and championed traditional diets, we’ve been fortunate to have one of the world’s most quoted and respected nutrition scientists at our side: Walter Willett.

We’re not the only ones who appreciate his contributions. On Sunday, May 1 and Monday, May 2, 2016, friends, family and colleagues celebrated Walter’s 25 years as chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), and recognized the many contributions he has made to knowledge about food, nutrition and health. 

Harvard Accomplishments

As described on the HSPH website, the research of Walter Willett and his team at HSPH “primarily involves the investigation of dietary factors, using epidemiologic approaches, in the cause and prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other important conditions. Fundamental to this work has been the development of methods to measure dietary intake in large populations. Thus we have devoted substantial ongoing effort to the creation and refinement of standardized dietary questionnaires that can be completed repeatedly by subjects over a number of years.”

Image, right: Walter Willett with Ancel Keys, “father of the Mediterranean Diet” at Oldways 1993 Conference on the Diets of the Mediterranean.

It is this creation of databases of dietary data from large cohorts (Nurses Health Study, Health Professionals Study and Nurses II) that is among Willett’s most well known accomplishments during his years at HSPH. He’s also the author of more than 1,100 scientific articles, as well as the textbook on Nutritional Epidemiology, and three other consumer-friendly books, including Eat, Drink and Be Healthy, Eat Drink and Weigh Less, and The Fertility Diet.

Our Collaborations with Walter

For us at Oldways, Walter Willett’s leadership has meant a great deal. We’ve been very lucky to have Walter and HSPH as our partner in a number of educational programs, especially the Mediterranean Diet. 

Image, right: Walter Willett (right) with Oldways President Sara Baer-Sinnott and David Katz, founder of the True Health Initiative, at Oldways’ Finding Common Ground conference, November 2015.

Along with his HSPH colleague, Dimitrios Trichopoulos, and Marion Nestle of NYU, Walter chaired Oldways’ first Conference on the Diets of the Mediterranean in 1993, where the first Mediterranean Diet Pyramid was introduced. He also led our second Mediterranean Diet Conference in 1994 in San Francisco, where the World Health Organization also endorsed the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. And then in 1995, he chaired Oldways’ International Conference on the Diets of Asia, where our Asian Diet Pyramid was launched.

In 2000, Walter worked with Oldways to create the first Continuing Medical Education program that married food and cooking with the nutrition science of the Mediterranean Diet. Together, we brought doctors to Liguria, Bordeaux and Tuscany for week-long explorations of the Mediterranean Diet in situ. Walter and his colleagues would update participating physicians on the latest nutrition research for hours each day, then we’d all travel to an olive grove, or a winery to put our new knowledge into practice, with Walter standing in the aisle on the bus, continuing to answer nutrition questions from that day’s material.

In 2011, when Oldways focused on developing the African Heritage Diet Pyramid, Walter joined the Organizing Committee. The topics was of special interest to him, as he and his family had lived in Tanzania thirty years ago, and he is now involved in education efforts around AIDS and nutrition in East and Southern Africa.

Most recently, concerned that there was too much confusion around communicating nutrition information, we talked with Walter about developing a conference to clear up this confusion. The result of this meeting was Finding Common Ground, a two-day consensus conference chaired by Walter and David Katz. This event brought together leading nutrition scientists — from Vegan to Paleo — to reach a groundbreaking consensus about healthy eating.

So, as we celebrate International Mediterranean Diet Month, it seems only fitting to also honor Walter Willett for his many contributions to Oldways and to everyone who cares about common-sense, scientifically-based knowledge about food and nutrition.

BRAVO Walter and many thanks!

Sara Baer-Sinnott, President, Oldways

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April 28, 2016 | Oldways Table

April 16 was a day full of appreciation for raw milk cheeses! We loved looking at all your pictures and posts, and hearing about all the creative ways you celebrated Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day this year. You can see some pictures on our website, and more on our Instagram page.

The number one comment we heard from folks was: “We need a week, not only one day!” We agree. One single day to celebrate the hundreds of raw milk cheeses available is certainly difficult, but our global community of raw milk cheese lovers rose to the challenge. The official count was 632 events in 14 countries — a big increase from last year! Plus we had 80 participants new this year, which shows that this is a bandwagon worth jumping on.

Highlights from our 2nd Annual Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day:

Maple Hill Creamery gave away raw milk cheeses to lucky consumers who entered their competition on social media. Maple Hill regularly hosts fun contests, you should follow them and try some of their delicious cheddars.

Neal’s Yard Dairy and Milk Jam got together to taste raw milk from the producers of some of the most iconic raw milk cheeses in the United Kingdom, after traveling 750 miles around the UK to collect the raw milks.

There were wonderful events in Canada, Brazil, and Mexico in the Americas, and we learned a lot about the raw milk cheeses and producers in those countries.

There were special samplings, tastings, and special menus in Spain, France, England, Switzerland, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Sweden. We tried to follow the conversation, but we need to learn more languages. Luckily, raw milk cheese benefits, tradition, and flavors translate well amongst us turophiles.

Finally, there were events in Australia in independent shops and also in larger stores — all demonstrating that raw milk cheese is something we all enjoy, all around the world. New Zealand's one event was a product of the true cheese solidarity between cheesemongers and cheesemakers in the country.

Our official hashtag, #rawmilkcheese, reached an estimated 1 to 2 million people on Twitter, and more than 1,000 people were talking about raw milk cheese on Facebook. All of this engagement, from the worldwide events to social media celebrations, energizes us moves us forward. We will be celebrating the 3rd Annual Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day on April 15, 2017.

Your contribution to the Oldways Cheese Coalition helps us ensure that we can continue promoting raw milk cheese and many other events coming up. Visit our website or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out more.

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April 26, 2016 | Oldways Table

Ask any chef or home cook for a list of ingredients they couldn’t live without, and all of them would include salt. When used properly, salt enhances the natural flavor of food and bridges the gap between boring and exceptional meals. It balances bitter, sour, and sweet flavors too. Just think of dessert recipes; it might be counterintuitive to add salt to your cake batter, but it’s essential for brightening sweet flavors.

For those of us who look to recipes for home-cooked meals, the phrase “salt to taste” is commonly included in the instructions to allow room for cooks to adjust the seasoning according to their preferences. You might think, what is the point of following a recipe if you have to figure out how much salt to add yourself? Recipe writers know that people have different preferences or dietary restrictions, and may use different kinds of salt, some stronger than others, at home. Even if a recipe doesn’t use the phrase “salt to taste” or “season to taste,” it’s best practice to do it anyway.

The most important thing to remember for successful salting is to taste your food before adding salt, then taste again, and repeat continuously while cooking. This helps build layers of flavor that won’t exist if you just salt a dish at the end. Salt draws the moisture out of food, so it’s useful when you want vegetables to caramelize or wilt while sautéing, for example.

Tip: If you accidentally add too much salt to your dish, add acid, like vinegar or lemon juice. Starch, like whole grains or potatoes, also do an excellent job of absorbing salt.

Chemically and nutritionally, there is no difference between the different kinds of salt on the market. However, they have important differences when it comes to flavoring your food:

Table Salt

Table salt is the most common, cost-effective type of salt, mined from underground salt mines and industrially produced. Its fine crystals make it denser and harder to control when sprinkling, but other than that there is no reason not to use it in your cooking. Keep in mind that it’s easier to over-salt with table salt than any other kind of salt, so add a little bit at a time.

Tip: To evenly coat your food with salt, while cooking or to finish, raise your hand high above the food and sprinkle a pinch at a time.

Kosher Salt

Kosher salt got its name from “koshering” meat: removing blood from meat to adhere to Jewish dietary restrictions. It is also extracted from salt mines, but unlike table salt, it is raked to form larger, irregular flakes. It’s easier to season with kosher salt because it’s less dense, and there is less risk of over-seasoning. If a recipe calls for kosher salt and you only have table salt, use less than the amount called for.

Tip: A tablespoon of kosher salt equals roughly a teaspoon of table salt.

Sea Salt

Sea salt is evaporated organically from the sea, mostly in hot, dry Mediterranean climates. The harvesting process allows sea salt to retain its natural minerals, resulting in a noticeably different taste and color from other types of salt. It is more expensive than other types of salt (think French Fleur de Sel), so it’s best used to finish dishes, much like extra virgin olive oil.

Now that we've explained the differences between salt varieties, have fun experimenting with them in the kitchen. You can also practice salting to taste with these Oldways recipes:

Ayfer’s Kisir: Kisir is a bulgur grain salad served room temperature or cold. Since you’ll only salt to taste once, at the end, it’s a perfect opportunity to use sea salt.

Island Skordalia: Skordalia is a dip made from capers, almonds, walnuts, and garlic. Preserved capers naturally have a lot of salt, so it’s especially important to taste the dip before salting.

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