The Mediterranean diet continues to grow in popularity, and restaurants have the opportunity to capitalize on the trend.
Although termed a “diet,” it is more an eating style, with an emphasis on healthful high antioxidant-, fiber-rich ingredients such as fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, and healthier fats derived from olive oil, nuts, and seafood. Not only are consumers driven toward this flavorful and freshly prepared cuisine, but growing research on its numerous health benefits has given it precedence in the scientific community, as well.
For years, respected health organizations such as the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association have supported the Mediterranean diet for its emphasis on incorporating variety into the diet rather than restrictions, and a panel of physicians and nutritionists ranked it this year’s top plant-based diet and third best diet overall in the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Diets 2014” ranking.
The latest research out of the Harvard School of Public Health provides additional evidence for supporting this cuisine. In its study, individuals with greater adherence to a Mediterranean-style diet — without making any intentional modifications to their current diet or lifestyle — were found to have significantly less weight gain, lower cholesterol and reduced risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
To help draw more health-conscious customers, restaurants can incorporate Mediterranean-style cooking into their dishes in the following ways:
Enhance the natural flavor of dishes through herbs and spices rather than salt. Basil, cilantro, ginger and saffron are just a few accents that can complement any sauce, dressing, marinade, soup or entrée.
Boost the use of fruits and vegetables. Bring color and variety to salads and seafood dishes with fresh, seasonal fruits, and add hearty vegetables to chili, soups and noodle dishes.
Provide alternative sources of protein. Use proteins such as omega-3 rich salmon, tuna or shrimp, or make substitutions available in place of traditional meats in entrées and salads.
Use extra-virgin olive oil in place of butter and highly saturated dressings. Use it to flavor salads and drizzle over vegetables and pastas. It can also be used in low-heat food preparation.
Add texture with fiber-rich foods. Infuse texture into dishes by adding fiber-rich beans and legumes into salads and side dishes, and nuts and seeds as toppings.
Replace refined grain breads and noodles with whole grains. Use brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat pasta and wild rice in place of refined grains wherever possible.
This story has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: Feb. 19, 2014 An earlier version of the story misspelled the name of Zoës Kitchen in the photo caption.