Emilia Klapp is a Registered Dietitian and author. She wrote the book called, Your Heart Needs the Mediterranean Diet. She also has a website dedicated to helping diabetics improve their health through good lifestyle habits. Go to The Diabetes Club to check it out.
Emilia works daily with diabetics helping them to learn the basics of nutrition and teaches them about the wonders of the Mediterranean Diet. She follows this diet herself and was kind enough to answer all of my curious questions. I think you’ll enjoy her honesty and openness (and bonus recipe!).
1. Emilia, tells us a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Madrid, Spain. I really have wonderful memories from my childhood and teenager years. I always remember how our family, my parents, my sister and I, we all reunited at lunch and dinner time and had our meals together. Since we had no TV set at the time, we spent our evenings conversing with each other, sharing the experiences we had through the day. I also spent a lot of time with my friends. We didn’t have too many toys but we had a lot of fun playing outside.
Early in my life I developed a fear of growing older and being at the mercy of doctors, so although I was an accountant at the time, I started reading every book I could find on the subject of natural health to see how I could protect myself from ending up at the doctor’s office. This led me into my career as a Dietitian. Now, I have my own consulting business where I teach people how to eat to lose weight, prevent or manage diabetes type 2, and lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
2. You’re a strong proponent of the Mediterranean Diet and even wrote a book on the subject. Will you tell us about the book and how you arrived to this recommendation?
Being born and raised in Spain made me a firm believer of the Mediterranean Diet. Spain, along with Italy and Greece, has always been a poor country and I’ll never be able to thank Providence enough for this fact. Living in a relatively poor country forced us to eat what the land produced. There was very little red meat, so we grew up with fish, dry beans, fruit, vegetables, and the best extra virgin olive oil in the world. All this, plus a fair amount of walking, is what has made Mediterraneans some of the healthiest people in the world, so I felt the need to tell the world.
I wrote the book as a dialogue format where patient Al and registered dietitian Emi embark on a journey into good health. Diagnosed with high blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, Al is at risk for heart disease. Chapter by chapter, he learns about the Mediterranean diet where better health comes from eating the right foods and enjoying a lifestyle enriched by family, friends, and physical activity.
Al discovers ways to avoid harmful foods like saturated fats and processed foods and how to cook with healthy foods such as garlic, tomatoes, and olive oil, and Emi shares healthy and delicious recipes that are easy to prepare. Al learns how to introduce more physical activity into his busy schedule. Walking, dancing, and other activities help strengthen his heart and improve his body chemistry.
Al also begins to discover how to improve relationships with his family, friends, and coworkers. As the sessions progress, he decreases his risk of heart disease, spends more time with his family, and reduces stress at work. Al realizes he is becoming happier and healthier by following the Mediterranean diet.
3. Is this diet for everyone?
Yes, it is. However, people with diabetes need to be careful with the amount of fruit and starchy vegetables they eat.
4. For those who may be interested, are there ways to eat a low carb version of the Mediterranean Diet?
Yes, because the foundation of the Mediterranean diet is legumes such as dry beans, lentils, and garbanzo beans, whole cereals, whole grain breads, fruits and vegetables, olive oil and fish. Legumes for example, are very rich in fiber; fiber prevents a high raise in blood sugar.
But again, diabetics need to pay attention to the amount of fruit servings. In Mediterranean countries we eat a lot of fruit, but a person with diabetes should not eat more than 3 servings of fruit per day. Starchy vegetables also need to be limited. As for pasta, it should always be whole wheat or durum semolina pasta and cooked “al dente”, meaning cooked for just only 5 or 6 minutes.
At my consulting business I teach patients who are diabetics or who are at risk of developing the disease. However, I felt that because of the nature of my business, I was limited on the amount of people I could reach. So, I decided that a way to “reach the world” would be to have a site where I could literally tell everyone on earth how to prevent or manage diabetes and other health conditions very much related to diabetes such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. People coming to my site will find articles that will help not only with diabetes but also with their general health. One example is the article I wrote on how to read Nutrition labels. This article can be found at my site, under “Archives”.
6. Being a Registered Dietitian, do you get a different point of view of our society’s state of health?
Because of my profession, I spend most of my days around people who have different health conditions. This means that on a regular day, I see more sick people than healthy ones and if I am not careful and I make sure I put things into the right perspective, I tend to go home in the evenings thinking everybody in this world is sick. Unfortunately, the truth is that this epidemic of obesity we are experiencing, the way we eat, and the lack of physical activity, are causing a large percentage of the population to have at least one chronic health issue. This is a very sad fact, because many of these health conditions can be prevented.
7. What do you think will take for most people to change their eating habits?
Unfortunately people wait until they are sick or overweight to take some action regarding their health. Somehow, they don’t believe in preventing. But part of the reason why people take this position is because they don’t have the facts. People need to be educated on nutrition and the consequences of eating poorly. To give you an example: I haven’t met one single person who has come to my nutrition classes who knows how to read a Nutrition Label. If the person doesn’t know what is inside a box of cereal or a can of juice because they cannot understand the food label, they cannot be selective and make the right choice.
The result is that people keep eating processed foods with a lot of hidden sugar, wrong fats, too much sodium, very little fiber, and so on. There is no doubt that eventually we pay a price with our health for eating this way. At this point, to stop overweight, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and any other chronic health condition, educating the population in nutrition and exercise seems to be the best course of action.
8. Do you yourself, follow the Mediterranean Diet? If so, what is your favorite healthy meal?
Yes, I do. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. One item that is never missing in my kitchen is a juice extractor and every day I make my own raw vegetable juice. As for protein, I mainly eat fish, some chicken, and dry beans; red meat once in a blue moon. Extra virgin olive oil, nuts, whole grain breads and pasta are also part of my diet.
One of my favorite dishes is a seafood stew. It is very simple to make. Heat three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a pan, medium heat. Add one large yellow onion finely chopped and 3 or 4 garlic cloves, crashed. Sauté for 3 or 4 minutes. Add one pound of calamari rings. Cover, lower the heat, and let it simmer. After ten minutes, add a can of marinara sauce, low sodium, if possible, organic. Let simmer for five minutes and add six cups of water. Add a bay leaf and some aromatic herbs such as parsley, oregano or any other one you like. When the calamari are tender, add two zucchini cut in small cubes and cook for 3 minutes. Add half pound of medium size scallops and half pound of medium size raw shrimp and cook for three minutes. Remove from the heat. Serve hot. It serves about 4 to 6 people.
9. If you had to give only one piece of advice to a client, what would it be?
Cook more at home. Cooking your own meals gives you a better control of what you eat because you can limit the amount of sodium, sugar and bad fats that come with many of the meals we eat outside. If you like hamburgers, no need to deprive yourself of them. Just buy organic, lean beef and make them at home.
Ah ha! About that last point Emilia makes… Since I’ve begun cooking most of what I eat, I’ve been able to reduce my salt/sugar intake, UP my good fat intake, AND eat more food all while staying the same weight!
Something additional we can take away from this interview that I’d like to point out is how a lifestyle habit such as family dinners without the TV can be so beneficial. I too grew up with dinner at the dining room table with the family. This habit makes us pay attention to the food we are eating and the people we love.
Muchas gracias Emilia for all of the great info and tips! If you want to check out her site you can find it here: The Diabetes Club and if you want to learn more about her book click here: Your Heart Needs the Meditteranean Diet.