The Mediterranean Diet: Dinner
What's for dinner? How many times have you heard (or asked) that one? Most of us have little time or energy to prepare a complicated meal after working all day. If you buy the right foods and stock your kitchen properly, you can easily put together a quick dinner by looking in your cupboard or refrigerator/freezer. Don't be afraid to use frozen and canned vegetables. Contrary to what many people think, frozen and canned vegetables are quite nutritious. Think of how dark in color frozen and canned produce tends to be. That is because produce to be canned or frozen are their peak ripeness and then processed. In fact, they may have more nutrition than what is called "fresh". Much of what is labeled "fresh" in our markets was picked before ripened and then sprayed to delay the ripening as it is put on a truck for the journey to the grocery store.
What is a healthy dinner? A healthy dinner can mean a wide range of foods. The basic components are vegetables, starch (bread, pasta, rice, potato), fat (preferably olive oil) and fruit. Fruit makes a great dessert. Try to minimize how often you have meat for dinner and maximize your vegetables. You really can not eat too many vegetables. A few times a month for meat would be the best limit. And try to keep the serving size of meat small: no more than 3 to 4 ounces (about the size of a deck of cards). Meat preparation should also be considered. Searing meat produces compounds called "heterocyclic amines". These are compounds that have been shown to be potentially carcinogenic (may introduce cancer). When eating meat, it is best to prepare the meat in a soup or stew or sauce. This is called "moist heat" and the meat does not sear.
How many calories should your dinner contain? The amount of calories in your dinner will depend on your total calories for the day. Many people eat most of their calories at dinner. Remember, for weight management, what matters is the total calories for the day. Try to eat enough at lunch so you are not ravenous at dinner time. A typical calorie level for dinner should be from a low of 500 to over 1000. Your dinner should have enough calories so you do not feel hungry before you retire for the evening. Eating at night may be a habit you need to break and if you are not hungry, it may be easier to resist the desire to eat at night.
Keep in mind that the true Mediterranean's diet calls for a very light breakfast upon waking, followed by the biggest meal of the day at approximately 1:30 pm, and then a fairly light dinner at around 8:30 pm. Those hours definitely are suited for the Mediterranean lifestyle and are not appropriate to the average North American or Northern European workday!
The best way to control your calories is to make your own dinner. Most common Mediterranean Diet recipes take less than 15 to 20 minutes from the time you start until you eat. Try to make more of a recipe and freeze the rest for the nights when you really are too hungry or tired to cook. The beauty of Mediterranean cooking is how easy it is to experiment. Substitute ingredients for ones you don't like or don't have. Use seasonal items. You will be amazed at the many combinations you can come up with using a basic list of ingredients.
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