The Mediterranean diet has been described as the healthiest form of eating on the planet. But what does it involve and how can it help you?
People who live in Mediterranean countries typically include high amounts of fresh, natural plant-based foods in their diet. Think fruit and vegetables! It’s already well publicised that we should be eating five portions of fruit and vegetables each day to maintain good health, but those following a Mediterranean diet tend to eat more than this, basing each meal around plant-specific ingredients.
Fruits and vegetables are abundant in vitamins and minerals that provide a raft of health benefits. It’s no wonder that the Mediterranean diet has been espoused for its positive influence on improving cardiovascular health, aiding weight loss, controlling blood sugar levels and bolstering cognitive function.
Try to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet like those who live in countries such as Spain, Greece and Italy. Adding blended fruit and veg to smoothies and soups is one easy way to ensure you’re getting adequate supplies.
Around a third of the total calories consumed by those on a Mediterranean diet consist of fat, with the vast majority of this fat coming in the form of olive oil. However, the fat found in olive oil is the healthy, monounsaturated type, which delivers a bevvy of body benefits, including improved heart health and reduced inflammation.
Despite the high fat content of this diet, interestingly, saturated fat, or the unhealthy type of fat, is very low. The consumption of processed foods, red meat and dairy products is kept to a minimum.
When cooking or making salads, choose extra virgin olive oil to enjoy the healthy fats in this Mediterranean favourite. Instead of adding butter to dishes, such as pasta or mashed potatoes, use olive oil.
The top protein source for those following a Mediterranean diet is fish, especially oily fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon, typically cooked with plenty of olive oil and fresh lemon juice. Oily fish is packed to the rafters with omega-3 fatty acids, which keep bones and joints in tip-top shape, may prevent cognitive decline and does wonders for cardiovascular health. In fact, one study found that participants with pre-existing heart conditions experienced a 50-70% reduction in recurrent heart problems after following a Mediterranean diet.
Put fish on your menu at least a couple of times per week, whether served whole or added to stir-fries, soups or stews.
Beans, pulses and lentils all feature heavily on menus in the Mediterranean, and for good reason. Not only are they tasty and nutritious, but they’re full of fibre that keeps digestive systems running smoothly. Some studies even claim that people who consume legumes regularly have a lower risk of getting cancer, especially colorectal cancer. Indeed, one study found that those who eat like they’re from the Mediterranean experienced a 13% reduced risk of cancer, with legumes arguably playing a preventative role.
Legumes are incredibly versatile and are a super addition to soups and stews.
Nuts and seeds
When it comes to snacking, processed options are shunned in the Med, with nuts and seeds favoured instead. Nuts and seeds are star performers with regards to vitamin, mineral and protein content, where they play a positive role in reducing bad cholesterol and blood pressure, amongst many other things.
Stock up on nuts and seeds when you get the munchies and you’ll soon start to reap the benefits.
Small amounts of antioxidant-rich red wine sipped with a meal is part and parcel of a Mediterranean diet, bringing benefits to your heart and immune system, while lowering your risk of diabetes and having a stroke.
Drinking in moderation is key to capitalise on the health benefits. Most importantly, when people from Southern Europe eat and drink they tend to make it a sociable affair, sitting down together with family and friends and savouring every mouthful. This in itself can have a positive impact on your health and wellbeing.