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Eating Healthy: Try A Mediterranean “Wonder Food”

By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA

Last week, I returned from Italy — Florence (Firenze) to be exact (a magical city in Tuscany) — only to realize how much I miss the delicious Mediterranean food. Trattorias (little informal restaurants) can be found along the cobblestone streets through the narrow alleyways. The trattorias boast magnificent Mediterranean cuisine — it’s healthy and ingredients are simple.

Actually, the alleyways are very much active streets. You quickly realize that when you’re almost knocked over from speeding Vespa scooters or tiny cars; Fiats, Smart Cars and occasionally the Mercedes-Benz.  What’s really amazing is to see a tour bus make its way through the tiny narrow cobblestone streets. I’m in love with the food, and ok yes, even the occasional spectacular gelato. (I think everything in moderation is okay, but if you consume gelatos every day, that’s a problem.)

Florence, a Renaissance city is rich in history and is known for its museums, cathedrals, architecture, piazzas, palaces and monuments.  Right on the piazza is the spectacular Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral or the Duomo.  The Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti) and the Uffizi Gallery are magnificent.

I’m in love with the jeweled city, the language and the people.  The Florentines are friendly and it seems as if everyone dons a Blauer Jacket; mostly in black and occasionally you’ll see purple pop through.

I wish I could say I was a great Italian cook, but I’m not.  I need help when it comes to cooking; mostly I need recipes that are simple and healthy. Some people love cooking and they can create wonderful meals on their own.  I can cook or grill basic simple healthy foods, but knowing what goes together is a challenge.

My friend, John La Puma, MD, ChefMD creates Mediterranean foods at its best.  His simple Mediterranean Bouillabaisse doesn’t just have mussels in it, he adds halibut, a fish rich in omega -3 fatty acids which can help prevent heart disease.

Wonder Food

Halibut is considered a “wonder food” because it’s low in sodium and fat, and high in protein. Eating just two servings per week may help lower the risk of macular degeneration, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. [Source:  ChefMD]

“I’m more persuaded than ever that if people eat real food and make it themselves, they’ll enjoy it more, live longer and be happier. So, to update Michael Pollan: Eat Real Food. Make It Yourself. Heal,” says Dr. John La Puma.

Take a look – Simple Mediterranean Bouillabaisse [fish stew with fresh mussels and halibut]

ChefMD’s Culinary Taste Tips

  • Fresh fish from the sea should have very little scent. Go ahead and use your nose. If it smells fishy or like ammonia, toss it back to the fishmonger.
  • Mussels should be prepped and cooked on the day of purchase. Remove beards with a sharp knife and carefully scrub the entire shell with a firm brush.


  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (8 ounce) bottle clam juice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 (14½ ounce) can organic fire roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon saffron threads, crushed (optional)
  • 12 large or 24 small live mussels, scrubbed, debearded
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 12 ounces skinless Pacific halibut, fish fillets, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 4 small whole wheat rolls, warmed (optional)


  • Heat oil in a large deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat
  • Add garlic; saute 1 to 3 minutes or until light golden brown
  • Add clam juice and wine; simmer 2 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme, red pepper flakes and, if desired, saffron. Simmer 2 minutes.
  • Add mussels to skillet.  Cover; simmer 2 minutes. Sprinkle paprika over fish; add to skillet. Cover; simmer over medium-low heat 6 minutes or until mussels open and fish is opaque. Discard bay leaf; ladle into shallow bowls. Serve with rolls if desired.


Dry vermouth may replace the dry white wine and mahi-mahi or pacific cod may replace the halibut.

Nutritional Analysis

Total fat (g): 6.93. Fat calories (kc): 60.91. Cholesterol (mg): 45.72. Saturated fat (g): 1.06. Polyunsaturated fat (g): 1.56. Monounsaturated fat (g): 3.46. Fiber (g): 1.2. Carbohydrates (g): 9.55. Sugar (g): 3.27. Protein (g): 26.21. Sodium (mg): 569.49. Calcium (mg): 87.88. Magnesium (mg): 100.25. Zinc (mg): 1.45. Selenium (mcg):60.71. Potassium (mg): 691.72. Vitamin A (RE): 79.45. Beta-carotene (RE): 211.71. Vitamin C (mg): 24.41. Vitamin E (mg): 1.45. Thiamin B1 (mg): 0.16. Riboflavin B2 (mg): 0.22. Niacin B3 (mg): 6.17. Vitamin B6 (mg): 0.39. Folic acid (mcg): 37.69.

For more spectacular easy and healthy recipes

Please check out ChefMD.  It’s filled with a ton of easy, healthy and delicious recipes.

Now, if ChefMD just made house calls, how cool would that be?

*This blog post was originally published at Health in 30*

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One Response to “Eating Healthy: Try A Mediterranean “Wonder Food””

  1. Kate says:

    As you say,”if people eat real food and make it themselves, they’ll enjoy it more, live longer and be happier”. I think that is the best part of Mediterranean diet, healthy tasty food to be enjoyed in social gatherings , rather than going on restrictive unhealthy diets that will make you miserable.

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