“Med Instead of Meds” Improves Diets and Health

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A group stands behind a table with healthy snacks.Heart disease and Type 2 diabetes are leading causes of death in Cleveland County. Fortunately, these and other chronic health conditions can be prevented or better managed through diet and physical activity. One of the most highly recommended diets is the Mediterranean-style eating pattern, which promotes healthy eating and offers many options for a plant-based diet.

Fourteen (14) students and four (4) Extension & Community Association volunteers participated in N.C. Cooperative Extension’s “Med Instead of Meds” 6-week class series. The hands-on educational program focused on the many health benefits of eating the Med-Way, including reducing the risk of chronic disease, lowering blood pressure, weight loss, and lowering the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Participants documented their dietary practices by completing pre- and post-series Med Way adherence tools and an evaluation survey at the end of the course. These tools helped gauge participants’ daily use of olive oil, the number of servings of fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, fish/seafood, poultry, red meat, olive oil, other fats, whole grains, products with added sugars, and water consumed daily. Each class session included research-based information, recipes, cooking and tasting segments, as well as a focus on other Med-Way strategies, including physical activity and social engagement.

A class works in a kitchen to prepare a meal.Class participants reported confidence level gains from “very low/low” to “high/very high” in their understanding of the Mediterranean-eating pattern, the health benefits associated with eating the Med-Way, and strategies for implementing the Med-Way and more mindful eating in their daily lives as a result of the course. They demonstrated increased confidence in their ability to implement specific Med-Way strategies, like choosing healthy proteins and whole grain options, using olive oil as their ‘go-to’ oil/fat, eating more servings of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, and limiting highly processed foods and added sugars.

Several participants reported using the Med Instead of Meds and similar recipes with their families and as part of regular meal choices. One participant’s husband had suffered a major health episode over the summer and was prescribed the Mediterranean Diet by his physician. The wife reported feeling well-prepared to implement this ‘dietary prescription’ and positive outcomes as a result of her participation in the class.