When I talk about the Mediterranean diet you are probably thinking this is one of those diet fads alongside atkins or low fat eating that promises weight loss results. Well actually I am not talking about a diet or weight loss at all I am talking about a way of living that has been shown to have numerous long term health benefits. It is always important to look back at the science and there is probably no diet that has been studied more or linked to more positive outcomes. Hundreds of scientific studies link this way of living to a decrease in mortality rates (meaning deaths per thousand per year) and, more specifically, to reduced rates of heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, diabetes and other serious health problems. Clearly this isn't just a new fad to sell books; around the middle of the 20th century scientists noticed people living in Mediterranean areas had longer, healthier lives than people in many other parts of the world. This is even though smoking rates were high and healthcare wasn't that great in some of those countries, so something else must be involved.
Now this was thought to be quite significant and so the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle (that of 50 years ago) was studied intently. Before we look at the specifics of what this diet entails its important to look at how the diet in our our country is quite different. We tend to like our fats saturated (butter, cheese, red meat), our grains processed in bread and cereals and our protein grown on legs and eaten very regularly. When it comes to sugar we add it to everything, anything processed and we enjoy a regular treat on top of that for our sweet tooth. As for fiber, the hearty fruit and vegetables we eat tend to be minimal and processed into juices and jars. When it comes to alcohol we are known as a nation of binge drinkers, large quantities in small time frames. We also have a lot of heart disease, dementia, cancer and diabetes in this country and those numbers are continually on the up. This is where nutrition science starts to take over, linking health considerations with different cultures and diets can give us great insights on better dietary choices.
So this diet or lifestyle isn't vegetarian or vegan and it doesn't cut out ANY food group, making it easy to follow. So what are that factors of the Mediterranean diet and how can you incorporate it into your life:
Increase your Plant foods - Base every meal around plant food, fruit, vegtables, whole grains (whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa and bulgur), olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes (lentils, dried peas and beans), seeds, herbs and spices. Plant foods are being shown to be the most important factor in our diets, they give us vitamins, minerals and fiber as well as many other nutritional benefits. Any lifestyle that bases meals around this is a great way to benefit your nutrition, by snaking on fruit and veg and adding more into recipes you will increase your plant food intake.
Increase your Fish - Eat fish at least twice a week. Alot of the benefits seen in the Mediterranean population is thought to be due to the amount of oily fish that is consumed, meaning they have increased levels of omega-3 fatty acids. If fish isn't your thing you can also find omega 3 in broccoli, kale, spinach, rapeseed oil, walnut oil and soya oil or maybe look into omega 3 supplements.
Moderate cheese, yogurt and dairy - To a small amount daily or a couple of times a week, this limits the amount of saturated fats which is an important part of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Low fat yogurt can be a good alternative as yogurt is a great probiotic that provides health benefits in itself. Cook and use olive oil rather then butter and switch to skimmed milk.
Moderate poultry and eggs - Every couple of days or weekly. This is also to minimise saturated fats, the fats in this diet are good fats which come from olive oil and avocado, fats aren't bad for you you just need the right type.
Eat red meat sparingly - There is alot of evidence that red meat isn't that good for us, with links to colon cancer and heart disease, There is no need to cut it out completely but try and swap 2 meals a week from red meat to fish and you will be eating more mediterranean already.
Don’t Eat - Sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils and other highly processed foods.
Drink plenty of water and wine in moderation - Drinking alcohol, in moderation, appears important in the benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet. However there are risks associate with alcohol intake and so this is optional.
The other advantage is that you can use this diet as a way to lose weight if you follow it alongside restricting your calories. Remember calories in vs calories out is the basis of weight management but the nutrition you take in while doing this is important for your health, so the Mediterranean diet allows maximal health benefits alongside weight management.