Mediterranean Medicine

Grilled salmon. Roasted corn and peppers. Black bean wraps. Yogurt parfaits with fresh blueberries. Sound like menu offerings at your favorite restaurant?
Absolutely, if your favorite restaurant is the North Mississippi Medical Center.
Beginning in October, the hospital will begin serving heart and diabetes patients Mediterranean-style food at every meal.
“I think this is a really neat thing the hospital is doing here,” said Dr. Barry Bertolet, a member of a team of cardiologists on the NMMC Heart Institute’s medical staff that came up with the idea to implement the diet. “Our hope is to get the whole community eating this way.”
A Mediterranean-style diet emphasizes fresh fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish and whole grain breads.
“They eat very little beef, not so much chicken, and a glass of wine with dinner – in moderation,” although you won’t find wine on the hospital’s menu.
The Mediterranean diet, Bertolet said, has been shown to lower the risks for heart attacks, strokes, sudden cardiac death, dementia and colon cancer.
“One recent international study observed a Western-style diet vs. an Oriental-style diet vs. a Mediterranean-style diet,” he said. “In the Western-style diet, the chances for a cardiovascular event was 15 percent greater than the Oriental diet and if you ate the Mediterranean-style diet compared to the Oriental diet you were 15 percent less likely to have a cardiovascular event and 30 percent less likely than the Western-style diet.
“So just by changing your diet, to get a 30 percent benefit, that’s huge,” Bertolet said.
The Mediterranean-style diet has also been shown to lower the incidence of new-onset diabetes because of the lack of refined sugars and carbohydrates.
“If I go eat white bread, a baked potato, a candy bar, I’ve got sugar in my system,” he said. “If I eat rye bread and brown rice – complex carbohydrates – I’ve got the same amount of sugar in my system, but it’s released over a longer time period. It’s fast release vs. slow release. It keeps the blood sugar more even.”
Yum Yums say yes
Traditional hospital fare hasn’t always been necessarily bad, just maybe misleading. Bertolet said a typical breakfast for heart patients might be sausage and eggs. But what patients didn’t know was that they were being served turkey sausage and powdered eggs.
“Patients thought, well if they serve me sausage and eggs in the hospital, then that’s what I should be eating at home,” he said. “The hospital wasn’t setting a good example. We were teaching one thing, but serving something else.”
Once the cardiologists decided to offer up the Mediterranean-style diet, someone had to devise a workable plan and recipes. That someone was Tawana Dearing, R.D., clinical nutrition manager for NMMC.
“I was excited in that it was something new and I knew it would help with the health of the community and our patients,” Dearing said. “When I found out all the work I had to do, that excitement dwindled a bit.”
Indeed, Dearing spent six months working with food
vendors to find what would and wouldn’t work, poring over recipes and tweaking dishes to make them palatable, appetizing and healthful.
“We have a group called the Yum Yums, made up of nurses, administrators and the nutrition staff,” she said. “Everything we put out on a hospital tray is tested on that team before we use it.”
In June, cardiologists, thoracic surgeons and diabetes specialists were treated to a sampling of everything on the new menu.
“It’s fantastic food,” Bertolet said. “I especially wanted some of the nay-sayers to try the food and they were blown away. My favorite is probably the black bean tortilla.”
Change in protein
The biggest change patients will likely notice is the lessening of meat-based protein at every meal. In fact, only one meal a day will offer meat, in the form of fish, chicken and pork or beef, but all meals will include some type of protein. For example, if salmon is on the menu for dinner, then pinto beans might be served at lunch and a yogurt parfait at breakfast.
“I’m more worried about how men are going to react than women,” Dearing said. “They’re used to meat at every meal. Some people don’t do well with change.”
Bertolet said cardiologists looked at the different components of healthful eating plans and they found that what was making the biggest difference was protein.
“We need to learn not to build a meal around meat,” he said. “One meat source a day is palatable.”
The Mediterranean-style diet will be the norm for heart and diabetes patients admitted to the hospital, but it will be available hospital-wide.
“Anybody on any floor can have this food,” Dearing said. “This is how we should all be eating.”

Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal