My accent immediately gives me away as a first generation Italian in the United States. Once new friends find out that I’m a nutritional therapy practitioner, too, the next question is, “What is the magic behind the Mediterranean diet?” While there’s no single trick (just as there’s no single Mediterranean diet as you’ll see in my 3 Mediterranean Diet Myths post), I will say that many Americans often leave out one important part: legumes (often known as beans) and nuts, all of which are seeds. (Since they often get confused, I recommend exploring this List of Legumes.)
The people living in the Mediterranean regions consume legumes regularly, often in the form of a soup main dish. On New Year’s Eve, many serve lentils with pork dishes like cotechino or zampone. Nuts, too, are often available for free eating in dishes in Mediterranean homes.
Turkey is the third largest producer of nuts after China and the US. Pine nuts and hazelnuts are common in Italy, walnuts in France, almonds in Spain, and pistachios in Greece.
While those with irritable bowel syndrome and blood sugar imbalances or GAPS conditions need to be more cautious, those without those issues can eat prepared legumes once or twice a week.
Why Legumes, Nuts and Seeds?
Legumes provide the best sources of slow-released starches (carbohydrates) in the diet. Stay tuned for a blog post series on gluten-free sports nutrition, in which I will cover in depth-how non-glutinous sources of carbohydrates power the muscles just as effectively as glutinous sources (grain-based bread, rice, pasta) while keeping inflammation in check. While grains are seeds, just like legumes, they come from grasses rather than legume plants. Their nutritional potential differs because of their parentage. On the other hand, legumes, despite their high content of carbohydrates, do not spike blood glucose levels as much as refined grains do. When properly prepared and combined, as in the Mediterranean diet, they are a nourishing addition to a healthy diet.
Getting the Most from Beans and Other Legumes
You know those cans of refried beans that are so easy to buy? The processing involved in getting them into that form mute the nutrients the original beans contained. Even canned whole beans aren’t living up to their nutritional potential.
The populations living in the Mediterranean regions traditionally soak stored, dry beans overnight before using them in dishes the next day. In a nutshell (pun intended) soaking and sprouting neutralizes anti-nutrients (phytates and enzyme inhibitors) contained in nuts and seeds. With the anti-nutrients out of the way, nutrients like minerals and amino acids become more bio-available. Think of it this way, sufficient moisture signals the seed that conditions are safe enough to release the nutrients that will feed the precious sprout.
What About Nuts?
So much for beans. Nuts, another type of seed, are typically sold raw, in bulk, and in shell. Unlike beans, a nut’s protection is in the form of a hard shell. Check my post To Sprout or To Ferment.
Keep nuts and seeds around as a crunchy, salty alternative to potato chips.
Why Give the Mediterraneans All the Credit for Legumes?
In the 1930s, dentist Dr. Weston A. Price, one of the world’s first professional nutritionists, traveled the world in search of the perfect diet. He found the diets of so-called primitive people varied greatly according to climate and food availability. The diets of the healthiest, however, had some common elements. One of these was the practice of soaking and/or sprouting legumes before eating them.
If you want to make sure the calories you consume contain the most beneficial nutrients for your particular stage in life, medical/physical issues or activity level, Healthful Living can help you design a diet and/or weight loss program that fits you to a T. As a nutritional therapy practitioner, I can help you optimize your health, athletic performance and even your mood. I’m happy to provide a free 15-min consultation when you contact me or call at 619-208-8159. Get helpful tips and notification of great healthy events when you like us on our Healthful Living Facebook page as well!