Shop for Food the Mediterranean Way

Shopping for food the Mediterranean way is probably simpler than your current grocery procedure. As you transition into this lifestyle, your grocery cart should be filled with fresh foods. The boxed, canned, and frozen items you do buy also tend to be simple whole foods such as canned black beans or frozen spinach.

You certainly still buy some convenience items with the Mediterranean diet, but as you transition to eating a largely plant-based diet with lean meats, nuts, and beans for protein, you find you don’t have to rely on counting fat, carbs, and calories as much.

How to buy produce

Choosing produce in the Mediterranean includes three main criteria: freshness, seasonality, and local proximity. Agriculture is big in the Mediterranean, so lots of local farms are available to supply food vendors with fresh produce. How do you know what to buy when you’re at the farmer's market?

When you go shopping for produce, keep these tips in mind:

  • Watch out for bruises and wilting. They can be signs that the produce has been handled improperly or that the food is past its peak.

  • Consider the ripeness. If you plan on eating the food later in the week, avoid picking pieces that are too ripe. Similarly, make sure food you plan to eat tonight is ripe enough.

  • Go for variety. Try not to get in the rut of eating only the same few fruits and vegetables. More food variety means a better variety of nutrients. Bananas may be high in potassium, but oranges are high in vitamin C. You want to get it all!

Seek out the perfect seafood

Depending on where you live, you can find a good variety of both local fish and shipped-in fish at your local grocery store or fish market. Choose a variety of fish and shellfish each week. Remember: You don’t have to pick seafood unique to the Mediterranean region; rather, you want fish that’s fresh, so local is better.

When buying seafood, look for the following to ensure freshness:

  • Flesh should have a vibrant color, with no darkening or dulling of color around the edges.

  • Any skin should look shiny and metallic.

  • Any moisture on the fish should be clear, not milky.

  • Whole fish should have bright eyes and gills that are tight against the body.

  • The flesh should be firm and elastic; don’t be afraid to ask whether you can touch the fish!

  • The smell factor should be mild. If the fish has a strong odor, move on.

  • The seafood shouldn’t sit in your grocery cart too long.

  • Frozen seafood should be vacuum-packed, or sealed with little to no air.

All seafood is good for you, but fatty fish found in cold waters such as the Pacific Ocean or cold freshwater lakes are higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Leaner fish found in tropical waters may have lower levels of omega-3, but they’re still a great source of lean protein.

If you live near a coastal town, take the time to find a local market that sells the freshest catch. Nothing compares to fresh-caught fish for flavor. If you know someone who enjoys fishing, let him or her know that you’d love to share in some of his or her fresh catches! (You may want to propose some bartering, though; catching and cleaning the fish is a lot of work.)

How to purchase beef, pork, and poultry

Finding beef, pork, and poultry in your local grocery store isn’t difficult. You can also check out the local butcher shop for great pieces of meat. Follow these tips to make sure you’re purchasing the best products you can find:

  • Beef should be a solid color: not too bright red, and with no graying or greenish tinges to it.

  • Poultry should look firm and not have a strong odor. You’ll know if your chicken meat is old — it has a very bad odor.

  • Pork chops should be firm and may have a little gristle on the ends.

What to look for in the dairy case

Dairy is commonly used in the Mediterranean diet and is a good source of calcium. One great characteristic of dairy products is that they contain a great balance of carbohydrates, fat, and protein, making them an easy, satisfying snack. Dairy is also low-glycemic, which makes it a great choice for those watching their weight or blood sugar. (Low-glycemic foods release sugar more slowly, helping to keep blood sugar stable.)

The fat in dairy products is saturated fat, which may be linked to heart disease when consumed in large amounts. For items such as yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk, go middle of the road and use 1-percent or 2-percent fat products.

Cheese is common in Mediterranean cooking, and you may be unfamiliar with some of the called-for cheeses (such as feta or goat cheese) or where to find them. Here are a few places to look when you’re shopping:

  • You can typically find containers of crumbled goat cheese and/or feta in the back refrigerated section of your local grocery store by the milk and cottage cheese. Check the high, outermost shelves.

  • The grocery’s deli cold case is often full of unique cheeses. You can also ask your deli clerk if the cheese you’re looking for is behind the counter.

  • You may be fortunate enough to have a store in your town that specializes in cheese. Count yourself lucky; you’ll find everything you need there.

  • If you live in a very rural area and can’t find these cheeses in your local grocery store, you can always shop online. Pricing varies depending on the stores.

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