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In last week’s column I wrote about the Med Instead of Meds program developed by our nutrition team at N.C. Cooperative Extension and NC State University. It focuses on the Mediterranean Diet which involves eating the traditional way people who live in the Mediterranean region do.

Eating a Mediterranean-based diet has been proven to help protect people from
developing chronic illnesses such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Eating “the Med way” can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, improve eye health and protect against cognitive decline. It is also more effective than a low-fat diet for weight loss in overweight and obese individuals. The name of the program comes from the concept that eating the Mediterranean way may help people reduce their need for some medications.

This week, I’m sharing the six basic concepts of the Mediterranean Diet:

Change your Proteins. Eat primarily plant-based proteins such as beans and legumes often. Eat seafood at least three times per week. Eat white-meat poultry, such as turkey and chicken, at least twice a week.

Swap your fat. Choose olive oil. Replace solid fats like butter and margarine and other oils with olive oil. Use olive oil for cooking, in dressings and marinades. Aim to consume at least 4 tablespoons per day.

Eat More Vegetables. Get at least three servings (cups) of vegetables per day. Choose a variety of colors and eat dark green, leafy vegetables such as collards, kale, spinach and turnip greens.

Eat More Fruit. Get at least two servings (cups) of fruits per day.

Snack on Nuts and Seeds. Choose at least three-ounces of nuts and seeds per week.

Make Your Grains Whole. Choose whole grain foods such as oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice and popcorn. When choose bread and pasta, look for “whole” in the first ingredient on the ingredient list.

Rethink Your Sweets. Limit your sugar intake to no more than three servings per week.

Our Extension Master Food Volunteers were recently in the Extension Demonstration kitchen in Bolivia testing some Med Instead of Meds recipes. One they particularly liked was a Whole Wheat Pasta with Pesto and Vegetables.

Extension Master Food Volunteer, Lee Harlow from Leland preparing the vegetables.

Extension Master Food Volunteer, Lee Harlow from Leland preparing the vegetables.

This pasta is a great way to incorporate a variety of vegetables into one quick and simple meal. You can substitute any of the vegetables listed for ones that are in season and readily available. You may think the 3/4 cup of olive oil seems like a lot, but the recipe does make eight servings. This means each serving contains only about 1 ½ Tablespoons of olive oil. This amount of olive oil is needed to properly flavor and cook the large amount of vegetables. The oil along with pesto creates a light sauce for the pasta. And don’t forget…it’s good to have up to four tablespoons of olive oil a day!

Whole Wheat Pasta with Pesto and vegetables

  • ½ box (approximately 4 cups) 100% whole-wheat pasta—we used penne
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 – 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 zucchini squash, sliced
  • 2 yellow squash, sliced
  • 2 broccoli heads, chopped
  • 5 – 6 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • ¼ cup basil pesto
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

    Vegetables for th Whole Wheat Pasta and Vegetables being cooked.

    Vegetables for th Whole Wheat Pasta and Vegetables being cooked.

Cook the pasta according to directions on box. Drain and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add minced garlic. Add all vegetables and sauté for a few minutes until tender. Mix in the basil pesto, salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper. Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese and serve.

Extension Master Food Volunteer, Terry Amrhein from Sunset Beach sautés the vegetables

Extension Master Food Volunteer, Terry Amrhein from Sunset Beach sautés the vegetables

Makes eight servings, each about 2 ½ cups. Nutrition information: 396 calories per serving, 8 grams fiber, 11 grams protein and 27 grams of fat.

Avery Ashley, our Family and Consumer Science Extension Agent, will be teaching a
series of classes based on the Mediterranean Diet at the Rourke Library in Shallotte. These classes will be held February 12, 19, 26 and March 4 from 10:30 a.m. until noon each day. They’re calling the classes Med Not Meds. You can register at the Rourke Library in Shallotte or on the library’s website. Seating is limited.

For more information, visit the Med Instead of Meds website. They offer a series of
videos that take you through these six basic concepts in more detail. There are also
many great recipes that can help you incorporate these concepts into your everyday

Source: Med Instead of Meds,

Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science team member and can be reached at N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center 910-253-2610 or by email at