Prairie Fare: Be impressed by the Mediterranean weight-reduction plan | Columnists

“I’ll have falafel in my pita,” my son said to the food service employee.

We went to a Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Minneapolis.

“Do you know what falafel are?” I asked him.

He grinned at me and nodded. I could almost read his mind.

My city dweller endured his small-town mother.

I had a flashback to the note from his day care worker. She was concerned about his picky eating habits. He used to only want macaroni and cheese and applesauce.

He has certainly developed an adventurous palate.

Incidentally, falafel is made from chickpeas, also known as chickpeas. For the production of falafel, cooked or preserved chickpeas are pureed or processed in a food processor. Then they’re mixed with chopped onions, herbs, spices, and often baking soda and chickpea flour. The mixture is formed into meatballs or small balls and then fried. Avocado oil is sometimes used as a deep-frying oil because of its heat stability.

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My husband and I had whole wheat flatbread filled with seasoned beef, chopped red cabbage, cucumber, avocado and hummus (also made from chickpeas).

I watched the chef make our sandwiches. To be honest, I was a little suspicious of this combination of flavors. I was positively surprised. We all felt as full as our flatbread after a large dose of aromatic fiber.

Chickpeas and other legumes like lentils and peas are notable sources of fiber and the B vitamin folate.

A Mediterranean-inspired diet is particularly healthy. In fact, the Mediterranean diet has been number one or two on the “healthiest diet” lists for several years.

The Mediterranean eating style is adopted by 22 countries near the Mediterranean including Greece, Spain, southern France, and Italy.

The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and low-fat dairy products. In particular, the eating pattern typically includes at least one to two servings of whole grain foods with each meal, two servings of vegetables for lunch and dinner, and one to two servings of fruit with each meal. Fruit is often served as dessert.

It’s high in beans, nuts, seeds, fish, and seafood. It includes dairy products, poultry, and lean meats.

If this sounds familiar, note that the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate (at are similar to the Mediterranean Diet.

Vegetables and fruits are particularly rich in antioxidant nutrients such as vitamins A and C and carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lycopene. Antioxidants serve as our “internal boxing gloves”. These natural chemicals in food help our bodies fight damage to our body’s cells from smoke, pollution, and other stressors on our body.

Although referred to as a “diet,” the Mediterranean diet is not necessarily intended for weight loss. However, stocking up on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can help with weight maintenance or loss.

Eating a healthy diet can reduce your risk of chronic illness. Several positive health outcomes are associated with following the Mediterranean diet. Some researchers have found fewer heart attacks and strokes, better blood sugar control in diabetics, and a reduction in the risk of certain types of cancer.

Some researchers have also linked a Mediterranean diet to reducing the risk of depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

Here’s a colorful salad recipe inspired by the Mediterranean diet. Try it as a side dish with grilled salmon. See “On the Pulse of Healthful Eating” by NDSU Extension for 15 pulse recipes. This publication is available at

Orzo salad with chickpeas and artichoke hearts

1/2 cup orzo or other small pasta

2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 clove of garlic, peeled and mashed

1/8 teaspoon ground pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon juice

1 (14 oz) can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

1 (15-ounce) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1/3 cup of crumbled feta cheese

2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh mint, chopped

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Cook orzo until just tender, about nine minutes or according to the directions on the package. Drain the water and let it cool down. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl and mix with oil. In a medium bowl, mash the garlic and salt with the back of the spoon into a paste. Stir in lemon juice and pepper. Add the cooked orzo, artichokes, chickpeas, feta, dill and mint; Swirl carefully to combine. Add tomatoes and toss again. Serve on fresh spinach. If you’re preparing it ahead of time, wait until just before serving before adding the tomatoes and spinach.

Makes six servings (1 cup per serving). Each serving has 220 calories, 6 grams (g) fat, 10 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates, 8 g fiber, and 560 milligrams (mg) sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson is an NDSU Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist and Professor.

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