The Many Merits of Mediterranean-Style Eating

By Amy Myrdal Miller, MS, RDN, FAND

DISCLOSURE: This post is a collaboration with Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner., on behalf of the Beef Checkoff, as part of my role as a compensated member of the Beef Expert Bureau.

As a dietitian, I’m amazed by all the fad diets people are willing to try, often at the expense of enjoyment or health. Eliminating entire food groups or restricting food intake to a few hours a day aren’t necessary for achieving your health or weight goals. And it certainly takes away some of the joy of eating and cooking.

I’m a big fan of the Mediterranean diet. In fact, it’s how I eat, enjoying abundant fruits and vegetables, beans and other pulses, nuts and seeds, whole grains, dairy, as well as meat and seafood. When I tell people I eat a Mediterranean-style diet, many will often say, “Yeah, but you eat beef.” That’s right. I do eat beef. I include lean beef in my diet three to five times a week. I do so because I appreciate the nutrition package of lean beef as well as the flavor.

A 3 oz. portion of cooked lean beef provides 10 essential nutrients, including iron and zinc plus half the Daily Value for protein, all for around 150 calories. Lean beef also pairs well with other foods I love like beans, barley, tomatoes, spinach, walnuts, and extra virgin olive oil. Did I neglect to mention I also love wine?

The many health benefits of the Mediterranean diet have been documented by research dating back to the 1950s. The most recognized and researched benefit is cardiovascular disease risk reduction. This benefit is very important to me because I have Type 1 diabetes, which puts me at higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

One issue that I find troubling is when research on the Mediterranean diet is communicated, important details are often overlooked, including the fact that beef is consumed in many Mediterranean diets. People tend to generalize about the Mediterranean diet, but there are many variations on this pattern depending on what part of the Mediterranean you’re talking about. Consider, for a moment, the leather industry in Tuscany. Where does all that leather come from? It comes from the cows who produce those gorgeous Florentine T-bone steaks generously drizzled with fragrant extra virgin olive oil.

Research on the role of beef in Mediterranean-style eating patterns was published in 2018 by O’Connor and colleagues. This research team looked at the impact of including lean red meat, beef and pork, in a Mediterranean-style eating pattern.  This randomized, controlled study of 41 overweight and obese adults showed that including up to 18 ounces of cooked, fresh lean beef and pork per week, along with poultry and fish, is effective at reducing total and LDL cholesterol as well as blood pressure. In fact, the participants who consumed more red meat (18 ounces per week compared to the control group who consumed 7 ounces per week) had greater reductions in total and LDL cholesterol.

If you love cooking as much as I do and you want to explore new ways to enjoy lean beef in Mediterranean-style eating, check out my Beef & Grain Bowl recipes, each based on a classic flavor profile from that country. Each recipe uses about 3 ounces of cooked Flank Steak, a lean cut of beef well suited for marinating. And, as you’ll see, each recipe contains abundant vegetables, at least one legume, a whole grain, and extra virgin olive oil. All of the recipes also include a classic fruit, vegetable, or herb-based sauce, most enhanced with nuts. They’re the kind of recipes where if you do prep one day, you’ll have options for customizing bowls and making delicious meals throughout the week from the prepared items in your refrigerator.