More and more people are turning to ‘old world’ recipes in an effort to decrease fats and create a more healthy diet. There are some truths to diets such as the Mediterranean diet being more healthy than the typical American processed foods diets, not every food from that region is advisable. The Mediterranean Diet is a ‘heart healthy choice’ according to the Mayo Clinic’s staff (1) because of the structure of their food pyramid. Remember those pyramid’s taught in elementary school? Until recently in America, the food pyramid was set up like floors of a house (2). The largest at the bottom indicating what should be the largest part of our diet – which included breads, cereals and rice & pasta; decreasing as you went up the pyramid from fruits & vegetables to Dairy, Meat, Poultry, Fish, Legumes and finally to Fats Oils and Sweets. The new MyPyramid from the USDA has helped dietary changes, as it allows for individualization – making the pyramid fit your diet(3). But with all the popularity of diets in our society – especially diets that limit certain food groups for weight loss, many are turning to Food Pyramids from other countries. Incidentally our food pyramid originated in Denmark in 1978 before being adopted by the US, so technically our pyramid already represented a European diet. (2)
In the Mediterranean, the diet primarily consists of fruits and vegetables, grains (mostly whole grains), legumes and olive oil. The diet’s food pyramid decreases from there to include fish & seafood, to Poultry, eggs & Dairy, to finally meats & sweets. This sounds beautiful, in theory, but no countries diet is perfect. For one thing, the primary source of fats is Olive Oil. While Olive oil is better than, say vegetable oil, for your heart as it’s a monounsaturated fat which has been shown to decrease ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and raises ‘good’ HDL – but it is still an oil and so has high fat content, and therefore must be used sparingly to affect weight loss. Here are some Nutritional Breakdowns of my Top 3 Unhealthy Spanish Foods that should definitely be excluded from your Mediterranean diet.
1. Paella – this is a hearty rice dish that is a staple in the Spanish/Mediterranean diet. Mixed in would be a myriad of vegetables, meats, sausages and seafood; flavored with saffron or Spanish Paprika. Sounds yummy. Now for the reality, the nutritional breakdown (4), a serving size of this dish is only 1 cup. In that small cup there are 379 calories, 13.06 grams of fat, 40.03 grams of carbohydrates, and 22.83 grams of proteins. That makes 32% of the calories are fats (which is 20% of your daily allotment), 43% are carbs and only 25% are proteins. Furthermore in this one cup you’ll receive 60% of your daily allotment of Sodium at a whopping 1450mg. This makes for a lot of unhealthy with the healthy for so measly a serving size. This recipe can be made a bit healthier by using less rice and switching to brown rice and by using less meat and more veggies.
2. Churros – this one should surprise no one. Churros are the Spanish form of donuts. Usually served with Hot Chocolate, these are long and skinny as the batter is passed through a shaped funnel. The serving size for these is only 1 – which would take Herculean self-discipline. The nutritional breakdown (4): There is only 116 calories in a single churro, but 57% of those calories are from fat – 10% of those from the unhealthy saturated fats, 41% of the calories are from carbohydrates and only 2% are from proteins.
3. Tortillas – Tortillas are used in many different ways in Spanish culture. The tortilla alone – which are primarily made of flour – has 144 calories. This is without anything added to the tortilla, just the shell itself. The shell also has 293 milligrams of Sodium which is about 12% of your daily allotment.
Some other high calorie Spanish foods –
Patatas Bravas – a fried potatoes in chili & garlic sauce has about 300 calories per 1 cup serving.
Chorizo – a form of spicy sausage has a whopping 400 calories per 1 cup serving!
Albondigas – meatballs in sauce also has a whopping 400 calories in a 1 cup serving.
Arroz con leche – a form of rice pudding, while delicious also has a horrendous 400 calories per 1 cup.
So, if you’re considering changing your eating habits to those more aligned with the Mediterranean Diet, be careful what you choose to eat. If you stick with the primary vegetables, fruits and whole grains then you’re more safe. But just because a food is from a certain region does not mean it must be healthy.
(1) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mediterranean-diet/CL00011 – Mediterranean Diet: Choose This Heart Healthy Option, by: Mayo Clinic staff; 1998-2010 Mayo Foundation for education and research; updated 7/8/10