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Moussaka Mea

Making moussaka can be a lengthy process if done from scratch but is well worth the effort.

Following a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and moving more throughout the day are all steps toward improving your health outcomes, including lowering risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, depression and more.

Those lifestyle choices will be the subject of the Sky Lakes Wellness Center Seminar on Thursday evening given by Portland internist Dr. Miles Hassell, as well as the subject of his book co-authored with sister, Mea Hassell, “Good Food, Great Medicine.”

Hassell, who is in private practice at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, explained his “food as medicine” philosophy as a way to help treat a variety of different illnesses in conjunction with medication.

“I think bodies are smarter than doctors,” he said.

For his patients, and in his book, Hassell advocates “using lifestyle, where appropriate, to treat just about everything.”

Hassell and his sister, a freelance journalist and cooking instructor, offer evidence-based recommendations for living a healthy lifestyle, including following a Mediterranean diet, getting adequate sleep, and exercising regularly.

That healthy lifestyle can help prevent and treat a whole host of disease, ranging from heart disease and diabetes, to dementia and depression, Hassell said.

It’s important to note, he said, that the recommendations he makes in his practice and in the book are based on his own academic research and the results of a variety of studies performed around the world. He points to the Seven Countries Study directed by Ancel Keys in the 1950s as the “first big study” to show the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

Hassell wanted to offer his patients practical solutions to help with their illnesses, and answer a variety of questions. How much vegetables should they eat? What about whole grains?

The “Good Food Guidelines” include eating real and whole, or minimally processed, foods, avoiding sugar, refined grains, and hydrogenated fats, preparing your own food from scratch when possible, and questioning “all diet and lifestyle dogma,” including their own.

The Mediterranean diet, according to the book, includes a high intake of plants, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, nuts, seeds, and unrefined grains, a high intake of extra-virgin olive oil, a moderately high intake of fish, depending on geography, a moderate intake of “historically cultured” dairy” like yogurt, kefir, and cheese, a moderate intake of meat, poultry, and eggs, moderate wine consumption with meals, and a moderate level of dark chocolate.

The Mediterranean diet doesn’t restrict good fat, which not only helps food taste better, but also satisfies hunger longer, the book says. Unrestricted fat makes it easier to reduce intake of sugar and refined grains without feeling deprived as well.

That’s an important factor when it comes to sticking to a diet, Hassell said-— people are much more likely to continue with their diet if it tastes good.

When writing the recipes in the book, Mea Hassell, who has been developing her own version of recipes for many years, her brother said, the goal was to find the “intersection” of healthy and delicious.

“What are the things that make food healthy and what are the things that make food taste good?” he said.

With that idea in mind, he and Mea tested and retested recipes before publishing the book.

The “Moussaka Mea” recipe in the book is one of his favorites, for example. It’s a one dish meal with vegetables, meat, and lots of flavor, he said, and is perfect for people who don’t usually like eggplant. The vegetable is helpful in lowering cholesterol, he said.

“The flavor part is such a huge component,” Hassell said. If you restrict yourself to tasteless health food, “Taco Bell starts to look good,” he added.

Hassell also emphasized that having less rules in a diet is important for success as well.

The overall goal of the diet is not for people to be thinner, although weight loss usually comes along with these improved lifestyle choices, Hassell said. And, while he also prescribes medication to go along with his lifestyle recommendations, patients often require less medications, he added.

While the health benefits are astounding, the main message of the book is that people can take charge and make a difference in their own lives, Hassell said.

For more information about the Hassells and the book “Good Food, Great Medicine,” visit the website goodfoodgreatmedicine.com.