The Mediterranean diet is one of the best eating styles for women in menopause (and pretty much everyone, really). With an emphasis on heart- and overall body-healthy fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, the Mediterranean diet is not only good for you, it may also help tame menopause symptoms.

Conversation with Chef Sheila Gomez of the Malibu Beach Inn

In this conversation, Gennev Menopause Coach Stasi Kasianchuk talks with Chef Sheila Gomez of the Malibu Beach Inn about the nutritional value but also the gorgeous flavors, colors, smells, and textures of the foods that make up the Mediterranean plate.

You can watch a video of their conversation on YouTube

 

The benefits of the Mediterranean diet

Gennev Menopause Coach Stasi Kasianchuk:

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most beneficial and healthful eating styles, especially for women in menopause. But many of us don't really know why or how to cook and eat Mediterranean style. So I asked Chef Sheila Gomez, an expert in Mediterranean cuisine, to take me through the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, both to our palates and to our physical health.

Well, let's just jump right in. So thank you, Sheila, so much, for taking the time to do this podcast with us. I will introduce myself. So I am Stasi Kasianchuk and I am a registered dietitian, exercise physiologist, and a menopause coach at Gennev. So to give you a little bit of background, Gennev is a women's health company that focuses on supporting women during peri and menopause, and food and lifestyle play a really big role in this. So as a dietitian and exercise physiologist, I focus on helping women to find strategies that can best help them.

And today we're going to talk with you about the Mediterranean diet. You are a chef, so I'd love for you to introduce yourself, tell the audience a little bit about yourself, where you work and what you do, and then we'll get into that even more as we go through the podcast.

Sous Chef Sheila Gomez:

Right. Hi, I'm Sheila Gomez. I am a Sous Chef at the Carbon Beach Club at the Malibu Beach Inn in Malibu, California. And as a sous chef, I'm basically the support staff of the executive chef. So I'm doing little bit of everything. I'm ensuring food quality, training some kitchen staff, ordering the food. And basically my goal is just to put out the best food possible and give the diner a great dining experience.

Stasi:

Awesome. That sounds like a very important role. And a role that I'm sure keeps you pretty busy.

Sheila:

It sure does. Yeah.

Stasi:

Well, thinking about the Mediterranean diet and I took a look at some of the foods that you provide at the Carbon Beach Club. They look amazing. So if I'm ever in Malibu, I'll definitely stop by. That looks delicious and definitely with a Mediterranean influence and focus there. From a health perspective, so as a dietitian, I recommend the Mediterranean diets looking at really fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole foods, fish, especially wild caught fish that can be provided for the clients that have access to that. Lots of healthy fats. So your olive oil, avocado, olives, this can really help to women to manage symptoms around menopause, including inflammation, joint pain, it's good for brain health. A lot of women experience brain fog during menopause and providing foods from the Mediterranean diet can help their, can help their brain health.

So those are some of the, the reasons that we recommend it. I would love to hear more on your perspective of your approach to preparing these foods, and what that experience has been for you. Maybe as you've worked over your time at the Carbon Beach Club or any other experience before that?

Sheila:

I think the Mediterranean diet allows us to, when it comes to food, it really allows the ingredients to shine. So that's a great perspective when you look at the Mediterranean diet. So as a chef it's almost easier because you don't have to do so much to change the food. If you have quality, seasonal ingredients, the flavors are out of this world and you really don't have to complicate it too much. So as a chef you almost have to like hold yourself back from changing it too much and you want to show it for what it really is.

Stasi:

That's great to hear. I and I think that that's okay. No problem. That’s one thing too, I think a lot of women that I work with, especially if they haven't been used to preparing foods and now they're focused more on their nutrition, they get the concern that eating healthy is going to taste bad or it's not going to have flavor. It's not going to have something that they're going to look forward to eating. But based on what you said, the Mediterranean style of cooking really already has flavors and the preparation is really just emphasizing those flavors.

Sheila:

Exactly. When you grab like, you know, seasonal like squash, it tastes amazing. You really don't have to do much. Sea salt and olive oil go a long way, which is a good key part of the Mediterranean diet: olive oil. There's so much flavor in good olive oil and I think a lot of people shouldn't shy away from the simplicity of the Mediterranean diet.

It's not as boring as one would think, you know?

Stasi:

Yeah. Yeah. And I like that you mentioned not shying away from olive oil sometimes, because weight management is also a concern during menopause. Women think any type of oil and they automatically think fat, high calories. I can't have that. Same thing with nuts. I hear that a lot. Oh, I can't have nuts because they're high in fat or they're high in calories. And I love the, the point that you make around this is if thinking about food in terms of flavor, the Mediterranean diet, following a Mediterranean nutrition plan, gives you an opportunity to shift from calories and nutrients and really start thinking about flavor and enjoyment of the food, and in turn you get the benefit. So something like olive oil, well yes, from a calorie standpoint it is going to be higher because it is primarily or it is all fat and has higher calories. The benefits of that olive oil I would say supersede the concern around the core content, especially if it helps you to enjoy a meal. I would imagine that something prepared in olive oil is going to be much better than if it's just prepared in a pan by itself. You might not be able to get it out of the pan also if you don't use some type of oil.

Sheila:

Exactly. And you know, I encourage people to even just take a tablespoon of olive oil and see and like taste it and really know what you're getting. And that's what I love from a chef standpoint is that you really go into the flavors, individual flavors of all our ingredients. And I think we've kind of gotten away from that as a society sometimes with our prepackaged foods and our processed foods; like, have a spoon of olive oil.

Stasi:

Yeah, no, that's such a good point. Do you have any recommendations on if someone's looking to purchase a high quality olive oil, maybe for someone that's, that really wants that top shelf olive oil, how they know that or middle of the road too, for someone that might, you know, be more budget conscious?

Sheila:

I think you want to just make sure it's in the dark bottle and right compress olive oil. California makes great olive oils, which, I don't think a lot of people know that you don't have to get Italian olive oil or Spanish olive oil. Like we make California, we make olive oil here in California. So as long as there's a harvest date, you can really see where they get their olives from and pay attention to where they're sourcing it from. But otherwise, you know there's a plethora of olive oils ranging from high price to low price. You just kind of know what to look for, whether it's the packaging of the dark bottle and where the olives are sourced from. If you get a harvest date, that's even more of a plus.

Stasi:

Awesome. That's good to know. I'll have to take it and check that out next time I buy olive oil as well. What about the tasting of something like olive oil? You mentioned, you know, just taking a spoonful. What should someone look for from a smell, taste standpoint?

Sheila:

There should definitely be a peppery aftertaste that ensures like the freshness of your olive oil. It should be a little bit bitter. There are different kinds of olive oils from different, you know, types of olives. But the freshness I think does come with that kick and that's how you can tell.

Stasi:

Okay, excellent. Well, we’ll get some people out there tasting their olive oils to help with flavoring things. What other ingredients would you say are your go-tos when it comes to flavoring foods simply? You mentioned salt, pepper, olive oil, anything else that stands out to you?

Sheila

Onions and garlic are probably my top two. They can make anything taste so much better. I think they're really underrated. You know, onions and garlic. Citrus is great. Whether it's oranges or lemons, that always adds a wonderful element to any dish you're making, adding some acidity. And vinegars as well. I think that, I think really just those basic ingredients will give you a rounded taste in any dish you're doing.

Stasi:

Yeah, that's a good point. It sounds like there's, you know, there's a, there's a fat component with the olive oil and you're getting some of the acidity balance with the vinegar or citrus and then really some of those, aromatic flavors of garlic and onions.

Sheila:

Oh, fresh herbs as well, any fresh herbs. Rosemary, oregano, mint, like there's so many. Grab anything and try it. Cilantro, they all taste different, but they all taste wonderful.

Stasi:

Excellent. Yeah. Simple things that can make a big difference. And just to put the dietitian plug in here, all of the things you mentioned have so many nutrients and this is a great way I think thinking about the flavor aspect that you talked about. So again, changing that perspective of preparing a meal based on flavor or preparing a meal based on simplicity. And then in turn you're adding, you get the benefit of the nutrients of all these things. So you mentioned the citrus that's going to be a vitamin C, which is definitely an anti-inflammatory component as well. And then even some of the garlic and onions, great for the fiber components of garlic and onions, great for digestion. And then they also provide, plant chemicals, phytochemicals that can help with detoxification. So here you are preparing a flavorful meal and supporting your body at the same time. So this is great to hear.

Sheila:

I really think people forget that herbs, you know, are plants and provide nutrition.

Stasi:

Yes, I completely agree. I don't know that we think of when you're adding herbs to something or to add herbs, you are providing additional benefits. And they certainly lots of anti-inflammatory benefits and all the herbs that you mentioned. And in small amounts, you don't need to have a whole bunch of cilantro on one plate to get the benefits. You can use them to add flavor without, uh, having this pile of cilantro on it unless you want it. I mean some people are cilantro fans.

Sheila:

That's true. Yeah.

Stasi:

Well, let's talk, you've mentioned a lot of these ingredients. I'd love to hear what's some of your tips are in terms of preparing foods or even some really easy recipes to do. And what comes to mind when you, you talked a lot about just trying things and I love, it sounds like you're really encouraging people. Just get into the kitchen, put some ingredients together and don't be scared. Yeah.

Sheila:

See if you like it.

Stasi:

Worst case scenario, it goes in the compost, but that's okay. but hopefully someone in the family likes it. So what have you experimented with? Maybe share, you know, obviously you have a background in, in food and culinary preparation, but things that are almost fail-proof if someone were to just throw things together and try to experiment.

Sheila:

I think if you start with a lean protein or a piece of good salmon, you have your base there. And again, it doesn't have to be the main star of your meal, but you know, if you would like some protein, start with that and then start with a good base, whether it's like a baked sweet potato or a cup of cooked whole grains: farro, bulger, couscous. There's so many different grains you can start with: brown rice. So you have the protein and your grains as a base and just roast some vegetables, whether it's squash or even more onions. cipollini onions, asparagus, have your roasted vegetables. And then, I dunno, dress it up with a little Greek yogurt with some garlic and parsley. I think it's a great, you know, well-rounded meal. And it didn't require a lot. You just had to cook some fish, cook some grains, roast some vegetables, and then just, you know, add some pizazz with some Greek yogurt.

Stasi:

Well, and that's a great point too, of things that are already prepared. You don't have to make the Greek yogurt, you know, it's already something that you can just add. I'm again going to add more protein from the Greek yogurt. You're going to get the benefits of the calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, a lot of nutrients packed onto that plate. And I'm envisioning this plate as well and I see just a lot of color on there. Would you say that the majority of your plates are colorful that you prepare?

Sheila:

Yeah, I mean with any vegetable you're already adding a spectrum of colors. And then that's usually what speaks to me. Like just throwing on a handful of herbs. Such vibrant things, you know, that you want to eat it and then you finish it off with some bright green, peppery olive oil. You've really got a complete meal without really trying hard. It's really just nature's like a table and you're just putting it together.

Yeah, that's what it kind of gets me excited about cooking. Like there's so many ingredients and you can put in whatever that you feel like having as long as it's fresh and it's whole, wholesome. Yeah, the possibilities are endless really.

Stasi:

Yeah. The simplicity of whole food ingredients, thinking about color on your plate. And I liked the point you make too about making a plate look good. You know, when a plate looks good, I would say we all want to eat that food versus if you look down at a plate that's just kind of blah, maybe all the same color doesn't have, that pizazz that you talked about. So simply adding just a handful of herbs, you know, and drizzling that olive oil can really make it, you know. It's Instagram picturesque without too much effort. It doesn't have to be flawless.

Sheila:

Don’t give away the secret!

Stasi:

You know, but if, if everyone sat down to a meal that way or thought about your plates. You know, how much, how much nature is on your plate when you look at it is a great approach. And then also what can you do to add flavor, adding more of those herbs? Thinking about the garlic and onions as basics. I mean we're not talking a lot of ingredients or a lot of time to prepare.

Sheila:

Yeah. Even a slice of lemon, like they can elevate anything, you know, it's just, I feel like we've gotten away from a lot of just normal things that have been in front of us this whole time. You know, you don't need the ketchup. Grab the lemon!

Stasi:

Exactly. Yes. Yeah, for sure. So that's definitely more whole food and fresh versus ketchup that can last in your refrigerator for another couple years.

Sheila:

Lemons: Nature's ketchup.

Stasi:

You coined it here first. Yeah. And way more anti-inflammatory properties in the lemon that you're probably going to find in the ketchup.

Sheila:

Cheaper as well.

Stasi:

Yes, exactly.

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Stasi:

Well, one thing that comes through, I do have some clients who are vegetarian and you did mention, you know, salmon as a protein source. What would you recommend as your plant based protein source that's go tos that fall into this style of eating?

Sheila:

I think beans and legumes are pretty amazing. You know, chickpeas, I love chickpeas and I'm a big fan of peanut butter as well. I know. Yeah, I know the jury can be out on peanut butter, but I’m a fan of peanut butter. Really nuts and quinoa’s a great one also, but there's a lot of… Tofu is great. But you know, I'm a meat eater so it's kind of hard for me to be like, Oh I eat this also.

Stasi:

Hey, I appreciate your honesty. But you mentioned some great ones there that are going to again pack a lot of nutrients. Fiber is going to be a really great benefit of some of those plant-based fruit proteins like the chickpeas, the legumes. So another benefit there for digestion and overall gut health. And the other, I like how you also pointed out quinoa. I think a lot of people forget that quinoa is a higher protein grain and certainly can contribute to protein needs while also being a complex carbohydrate. And again, more fiber, vitamins, and minerals in that as well. Yes. Good reminders there, how to, how to incorporate things. And I think like you said, you, you can still have those even as someone that eats more meat; there's ways to incorporate those as well.

Sheila:

Yeah. And I find that I discovered stir frying quinoa is an amazing way of just getting a quick meal and throwing in your veggies and getting your full serving of vegetables, you know?

Stasi:

Absolutely. And do you cook the quinoa first or do you just cook it in the stir fry?

Sheila:

I try. I cook the quinoa first. I'm a big fan of like preparing, uh, you know, a good amount of greens, whether it's rice or quinoa or farro. I just like to have that on the side and it's ready to go whenever you need a quick meal.

Stasi:

Yeah, no, that's a good point. And so do you prepare that beforehand and then you can add it in in different ways?

Sheila:

Yeah, that's what we usually do cause we even when feeding our staff and such, we'll just have a good amount of, you know, precooked grains and we just toss that together with some kind of salad or we'll make some protein into it and it's very versatile. And I imagine that would work at the home scape as well.

Stasi:

Yeah, absolutely. And that's a good point too from the convenience standpoint and because you can prepare those grains, you know, one day, maybe it's on a Sunday, you prepare a large batch and then you can incorporate it into various meals throughout the week. So a little bit of meal prep. Some clients I work with love the meal prep option and they'll prepare their meals for the week. Other people are like, please don't tell me to prepare my meals for Monday through Friday. I don't even know if I can get through Monday. So, so, but having that balance of here's a simple step, just choose one thing, choose maybe one week, it's quinoa, the next week it’s brown rice. Make a double or triple batch depending on how many people you're cooking for. Have that in the fridge and then you can reheat it so you can add it to that stir fry. Another great option to get brightly colored vegetables there. You could add it to a salad and make kind of like a grain bowl is what comes to mind for me. Or you can just have it on the side with another lean protein and more vegetables.

Sheila:

You know what I found is also very good, versatile for whether sweet or savory: oatmeal, like steel cut oats. I don't think a lot of people think about the savory side of oatmeal. Like you could heat some oatmeal up with some vegetable stock. And just have some roast veggies. And again, another lean piece of fish or you know, no fish or no meat, oatmeal and roasted vegetables actually are a very good thing.  We kind of forget that cause we're just thinking of our, you know, oatmeal, brown sugar and pecans.

Stasi:

Exactly. No, I love, I've seen more recipes for the savory oatmeal and it's interesting, I was actually looking at some yesterday thinking I need to try that. I have not tried a savory oatmeal. But some of them just look so satisfying where you do have, like you said, I love the idea of a vegetable broth or even you know, chicken broth or beef broth that's going to provide more depth and flavor. I think we get confined by rules of breakfast has to be sweet, you know, lunch and dinner are savory. Break the rules. We're telling people to break the rules.

Sheila:

Savory yogurt and savory oatmeal.

Stasi:

Stepping outside the box of which, finding those flavors is another way to decrease sugar intake. Which you know, as a population we know that that continues to increase. And there's places for sugar. You know, I think it will be with clients that are trying to find a balance there, there's a lot of people want to decrease their amount of sugar and that's a great way to do it though, is by focusing more on those savory flavors. It doesn't mean you have to take out flavor altogether, but let's swap them. And that, and decreasing sugar for women during menopause can really help to better manage hot flashes and joint pain. It, you can even help improve sleep and also moodiness, and dealing with mood changes. So great benefit there and still be able to have some enjoyment of experimenting with something else.

Sheila:

And I think people need to just remember like when they're cooking for themselves and making meals for themselves, they're taking control of their sugar intake. You know, cause going out for a salad that you think is just a salad can contain a lot of sugar without, because you haven't prepared it, you don't know what we're adding in the restaurant, I can be adding, you know, two cups of sugar to your salad. You don't know that. So when people take the time and prepare food for themselves, they really are taking a big step in taking control of their health.

Stasi:

Absolutely. Yeah. And I think that's a good point too, of food preparation is an opportunity to take control. During menopause, there's a lot of things out of your control, but focusing on those things that you can control can be a really great benefit from a health standpoint and also from a psychological standpoint where there is that, you know, this is something I can do right now and I'm going to focus on that. Whether it's for just yourself or even for your family.

Sheila:

Yeah. Take the power back.

Stasi:

Exactly. Your hormones, your hormones may be out of control, but you could still prepare a meal simply.

Sheila:

Yeah. Don’t blame the hormones.

Stasi:

Exactly. They, they, uh, they can't, the hormones are not going to dictate whether you're making a meal or not. You can still do that. Based off of your experience, and do you have any resources that you would recommend, whether it's someone that's just starting to get into cooking this way, whether it's a book or website, or just tips for when you're looking for ingredients like this that could help someone get started?

Sheila:

I mean, the Internet is really everyone's best friend. I don't know, specific sites, but even just when we were talking about the Mediterranean diet, I just put, put those two words in and the results were endless, you know? But actually I also encourage people going to the library and just looking at the cookbooks that they have there. You don't have to spend money on a cookbook, but you can visibly see the beautiful pictures of vegetarian cookbooks or Mediterranean cookbooks. There's so many resources out there. But I'm a fan of the Internet and also the public library and having a physical book that you can hold and that provides so much inspiration.

Stasi:

Yeah. Well, and it aligns with what your recommendations are in terms of preparing a Mediterranean style food. Keep it simple. Just do stick to a simple Google search, see what comes up, get some inspiration of ideas to try or go to your local library where you can check out various books and see the pictures, which I think the pictures, like we talked about, just the color of really getting an idea of like this is what simple cooking can look like and what your plate can look like and, and not being, not having to worry that it needs to take a lot of time or that needs to take a lot of energy, but just being able to visualize that and go for color.

Sheila:

Yeah. I'm also a fan of people trusting themselves. Like I think people are very much like, Oh, I don't cook. I don't know. It's like, but you know, everyone knows what they want to eat, what makes them feel good and it's this trusting yourself again to make good decisions and you know. You're not going to poison yourself with your cooking, I promise.

Stasi:

Yes, exactly. And if the first bite, it doesn't taste that good, then maybe you know, try again tomorrow.

Sheila:

Exactly. It's just one meal. That's what I also tell myself. Like when the pressure is like, hitting you hard about cooking this dish. It's just one meal. Chances are you're going to eat again and it's going to be better. And you won't make the same mistake that you did — if you made a mistake.

Stasi:

Yeah, exactly. Sometimes mistakes could maybe turn into the best secret ingredients.

Sheila:

Genius! Half of cooking was a mistake.

Stasi:

Yeah, exactly.

Sheila:

But we're not here to talk about that.

Stasi:

Well, I do think that might be a good, no, maybe not chocolate chip cookies, but what about… we talked about savory, there's a lot of savory and flavor in Mediterranean style foods, but what about dessert? Do you prepare those in your work? Are there more Mediterranean style desserts that come to mind?

Sheila:

Mediterranean style desserts. I mean, I really think the Mediterranean style desserts focus on fresh fruit. Some honey, maybe, perhaps a little, you know, a little cheese. That's what I find too. You know, and honestly, those are great together. Nuts and honey and a little, again, yogurt. It’s a great dessert. Fresh fruit with some honey also. Delicious. Yeah. And you know, panna cotta is not super Mediterranean but you know, in that, in the essence of this like a little dairy and also highlighted with fresh fruit. It's delicious. But again, it's back to keeping it simple as far as dessert.

Stasi:

Yeah. And I think that's a great way too to be able to, like you said, the fruit, you get a little bit of sweetness, add a little bit of honey, but you're in control of how much honey you add. If you want a little bit more and then balance it with maybe a couple of slices of cheese. So you have also some of that savory or, or the yogurt where you're going to get some sweet and then also a lot of nutrients. And that's what I find that women do experience as their hormones are fluctuating, sugar cravings. I mean buttons, you know, often if they suppress those and say, I'm going off all sugar, I'm not having any sugar at all, then it comes back with roaring vengeance of yes, you will have sugar. And then all of a sudden it's like mindlessly to the store for the ice cream. Exactly. Yeah. So having something, preparing ahead of time, having fresh fruit available, a little bit of honey, little bit of yogurt. Cheese can be a great way to counter that.

Sheila:

Or you can bake. If you want things more cooked, like bake the whole apple, bake the whole pear and then sprinkle some, no, maybe a little brown sugar. I think you'll be all right.

Stasi:

Yeah. Yeah. Great. That's amazing that when you add heat to fruit, tht how it can bring some of those flavors together or concentrate some of the natural sugars in there.

Sheila:

Yeah. I think it allows, the Mediterranean diet allows you to be more creative because you know, it's not confining you. I think you're just trying to find new ways to enjoy foods that are really good for you.

Stasi:

Yeah, exactly that creativity. Well, I like the all of these points that you had. I think, you know, the takeaways that I have are: keep things simple, you know, try fresh ingredients, herbs add a lot of flavor. Onions and garlic add a lot of flavor, find your favorite olive oil. And then also don't be afraid to get into the kitchen and just experiment, look at your plates. It should be a plate from nature, the majority of it. And really start thinking about flavors as opposed to calories and nutrients. Using a different lens to look through and building meals can provide a lot of nutrients and enjoyment around the food which is also really important. Yeah. Any other take home points that you have at this point or, uh, information you want to provide about the Carbon Beach Club? Anything as we finish up here?

Sheilaa;

Really not so much, but you know, I think everyone should just remember it doesn't take that much time to cook yourself a good meal, whether it's a salad or soup like it … Though some of these things can take as little as 10 minutes. You know, you just gotta want to do it and you know, take a chance, throw it in the pot — what’s the worst that can happen?

Stasi:

Exactly. Consider it an adventure and an activity for the day. A learning experience.

Sheila:

Yeah. And it's a great connection with yourself when you're preparing your own food. You know, you don't need a chef like me to do it for you. You can do it. No one knows your body better than you and you know, why not feed yourself at times.

Stasi:

Absolutely. Yeah. Great. A great message there, just in terms of the overall connection into what your body needs and listening to that and then experimenting with actually making the food for it. Well, Sheila, thank you so much for your time and information. We appreciate this and really enjoy having this conversation with you.

Sheila:

Oh, I had a great time. Thank you so much.

Stasi:

Thank you.

Gennev:

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Gennev podcast. Remember, you can subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and just about anywhere you get your podcasts. Gennev’s your online destination for menopause doctors, coaches, products, and education. You can find us at Gennev.com. Thanks for joining.

 If you have great Mediterranean diet recipes to share, we'd love to add them to our repertoire! Please share on the Gennev Community Forums

 
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