DEAR DOCTOR K: I keep hearing about the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. But what IS a Mediterranean diet?
DEAR READER: The “Mediterranean diet” refers to the traditional diet of Greece, Italy and other countries near the Mediterranean Sea. There is a good deal of scientific evidence that the diet has health benefits.
The Mediterranean diet consists mostly of plant foods. These include fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. Animal protein is consumed chiefly in the forms of fish and poultry. Olive oil is the principal fat. And wine is taken with meals.
What are the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet? For people who follow the diet regularly, there are many of them. The diet is associated with lower body weight. There is a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. People who regularly follow the Mediterranean diet have lower risks of dying of heart disease, stroke or cancer, and have a longer lifespan.
Sound good? There is no pill ever invented that can give you all those health benefits.
We have a lot more information in our Special Health Report called “Healthy Eating: A Guide to the New Nutrition.” You can find out more about it at my website.
In the meantime, here are some tips to help you get started on eating the Mediterranean way:
(1) Pile on the fruits and vegetables, and eat many different — and different-colored — varieties.
(2) Go a little nuts. Nuts are nutritious, but calorie-dense. Restrict yourself to a small handful a day. Some grocery stores sell small bags of mixed nuts and dried fruits. The total calories in one bag are about 150 to 200. I keep a bunch in my desk and have one bag a day, typically at a time (like mid-afternoon) when I’m feeling a little sleepy and hungry.
(3) Go for the whole grains. There are good carbohydrates (“carbs”) and bad carbs. Choose whole grains (good carbs) over refined grains. Whole-grain breads, for example, are healthier than white breads, brown rice is healthier than white rice. And I think whole-grain breads and brown rice also taste better. (I wish I could tell you that I’ve found a brand of whole-grain pasta that I think tastes better than traditional refined-grain pasta, but I haven’t. If you have, let us know.)
(4) Eat good fats. For a long time, we’ve been told that fat in the diet is bad for you. That’s just plain wrong. There are good fats and bad fats. You need the good ones, and olive oil and canola oil are rich in good fats. (Butter and lard are full of bad fats.) Omega-3 fatty acids are healthy fats and are found in anchovies, sardines, mackerel and salmon.
(5) Slow down. Embrace the traditions of the Mediterranean diet by taking time to enjoy your meal. Eating a large meal over 30 to 40 minutes, instead of 15, allows you to feel full with much smaller portions. And that helps control your weight.
DEAR DOCTOR K: I have bad breath. I brush, floss and use mouthwash. What else can I do?
DEAR READER: Bad breath, which also goes by the name halitosis, can be embarrassing. Lucky for you, there’s a lot you can do.
Most bad breath starts with bacteria in the mouth. Bacteria live everywhere in the mouth. You already know to brush and floss your teeth daily. But it’s just as important to brush your tongue every day, with toothpaste on the brush. Crazy as that may sound, it really helps.
Bacteria live on the tongue and release gases that smell bad. The area at the far back of the tongue is particularly important. Unfortunately, brushing that area tends to make a lot of people gag. If you’re like that, just brush that part of the tongue in several different and brief strokes: First the right side, rest, then the middle, rest, then the left side.
When plaque collects under the gums, the bacteria in it release foul smells. If the plaque under the gums leads to infection of the gums, that also causes foul smells. Flossing daily to remove plaque from the gum pockets around the teeth can combat this problem.
Food particles that collect on poorly fitting or unclean dentures can also cause odor.
Certain foods have a strong association with breath odor. Garlic is a well-known culprit — garlic breath can last for up to three hours! Alcohol, too, can be detected on the breath long after it’s been consumed.
Infection and chronic disease can also play a role. Kidney failure, liver disease, diabetes and respiratory tract infections can cause breath odor.
Too little moisture in the mouth allows dead cells and bacteria to accumulate on your tongue and teeth. Dry mouth is what causes “morning breath.” (Some people call it “dragon breath.”)
Smoking and chewing tobacco lend an unpleasant scent to your breath. They also contribute to dry mouth and gum disease, both of which cause bad breath.
Here are Doctor K’s seven steps to eliminate bad breath: — Brush and floss daily. — Brush your tongue and use a tongue scraper if necessary. — Rinse with plain water after meals if brushing isn’t an option. — Get regular dental checkups to catch and treat gum (periodontal) disease. — Snack on sugar-free foods or chew gum sweetened with xylitol to clear away food particles and keep saliva flowing. — Use an over-the-counter mouthwash containing zinc. — Don’t smoke.
We have more information on battling bad breath in our Special Health Report, “Dental Health for Adults: A Guide to Protecting Your Teeth and Gums.” You can find out more about it at my website.