A la Carte: It’s all in the family

Mediterranean meals manufactured by the Saitta family of Marco Island

Dr. Richard Saitta has been practicing medicine on Marco Island for more than 20 years. He has developed an action plan for his patients over the years to get them on the road to a healthy lifestyle and has written the book, “Eating Your Way to Health; Mediterranean Style.”

The book focuses on the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. Dr. Saitta, a native of Italy and a former nutrition and physical fitness expert for France’s ski team, believes the Mediterranean Diet is a key factor in maintaining good health.

“It’s about educating patients. They’re not really in a healthy state when they come in and are being treated with medication. We wait until the acute state to treat the patient; we don’t prevent the cause of many illnesses, and they really are preventable,” Saitta said.

“High cholesterol levels can be prevented with this diet — it’s much like the National Institute of Health’s new food pyramid — that’s really the diet — grains, vegetables, fruits, proteins. It’s a way of life and a well balanced diet. It’s easy to eat healthy, and it’s not expensive,” Dr. Saitta stressed.

“Whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes, and cold-water fish, which have the Omega 3s, are the foods you need to eat. And, fitness is also key. You have to make the lifestyle change,” Saitta stated.

“The more processed foods you eat, the worse off you’ll be. Even with younger people, their diets are high in fat — the fat in the Mediterranean diet is all the good fat. In Europe, people walk a lot. They are involved in physical activities. Now our youth is involved with computers, TV — they sit. Refined sugars, soda, cookies, ice cream and fast foods are overly consumed. The starches in the Mediterranean diet are the good ones — rice, pasta — in moderate quantities. In Italy, portions of pasta are one-third the size we eat here. With the Mediterranean diet, you’re getting sugars from the fruits, vegetables and starches — the complex carbohydrates — the more complex, the better they break down,” Dr. Saitta added.

Taking his philosophy to the next level, approximately four years ago Dr. Saitta and his family launched a line of fully prepared meals. Juliana Saitta, Dr. Saitta’s wife, daughters Tania D’Alessandro, Lara Butrum, Melissa Saitta and son Sebastien all work together. The product line is Mediterranean Meals, and the entire family produces, packages and promotes the meals right here on Marco Island.

“We used to focus on marketing and delivering the line to hospitals, but we’ve moved to the retail sector — we’re now targeting the consumer at the supermarket level,” daughter Melissa Saitta said.

“All of our foods are organic — we focus on low sodium, extra virgin olive oil, and whole-grains in our pastas. Our meals are prepared in a USDA and HACCP certified food manufacturing facility, using state-of-the-art equipment. Our strict quality control measures assure consistent flavors, textures and appearance in each and every meal. Quality Assurance International (QAI) rigorously verifies that the organic integrity of all the ingredients that go into our meals is maintained. The QAI mark of approval provides the consumer with the confidence in our product. They can be sure that when they are enjoying a Mediterranean Meals organic meal, they are truly eating organic,” Melissa Saitta explained.

The meals are freshly prepared and then flash frozen. The facility has two huge walk-in freezers, one capable of housing 35,000 meals. Unlike other frozen meal products, Mediterranean Meals is low in sodium and high in flavor, through the use of extra virgin olive oil as the main source of fat and natural spices and herbs to offer the consumer high-quality flavor.

“This really started to take off about six months ago — we’re now in Wynn’s in Naples, Whole Foods and Oaks Farms stores. If you don’t want to go to Naples right now, you can come to the office and buy the line. (The office is located at 1010 North Barfield Drive.) We should be in 100 Winn-Dixie stores by August or September, and branching out in the Northeast with 300 locations throughout New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Next year, we will target the Western market region,” Melissa Saitta said.

“We currently have four lines out — whole grain spaghetti in a red bell pepper sauce, creamy mushroom whole grain fusilli, tuscan beans and rice and whole grain spaghetti alla Romana. These are all complete meals, including vegetables. Even the containers are biodegradable,” Dr. Saitta said.

The creamy mushroom whole grain fusilli is topped with button and Shitake mushrooms in a creamy mushroom sauce and includes organic green beans to complete the meal. The whole grain spaghetti alla Romana includes spinach and artichoke hearts in a zesty organic marinara sauce, plus a side dish of organic broccoli.

“The family has done everything — even the package design. We want to teach people to eat this way — it’s the simplicity of good cooking. We are very proud of our efforts to educate consumers. We want to put recipe cards in the produce sections of the supermarkets — it’s not just about our food; for instance, you can make at least 10 different dishes with zucchini,” Dr. Saitta said.

Denny Bee has been a patient of Dr. Saitta’s for approximately one year.

“I had four heart attacks. Since I’ve been under Dr. Saitta’s care and his program, I lost 40 pounds, and this healthy way of eating has diminished my need for the use of many medications. My energy level is great,” Bee said.

It’s important to recognize that his is not a “diet.” Dr. Saitta’s program is about prevention. “Physical fitness and good nutrition is the best health regimen. Quantity is important, too. This way of eating should become a way of life,” Dr. Saitta explained.

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