Thinking about people who live in the Mediterranean, it’s easy to imagine beautiful, slim, care-free souls spending their days in picturesque cafes eating pizza, pasta and drinking wine - what many of us consider as core elements of the Mediterranean diet.
According to much of the research, Mediterranean folk live longer and are happier and healthier. And that’s mostly thanks to their diet; which has been dubbed as “the gold standard of preventive medicine”. It is also suggested that it is the sums of its parts that make this eating style so powerful and beneficial to your health.
In the United States, CNN named the Mediterranean Diet as Best Diet for 2019, ahead of the DASH diet, the Flexitarian Diet, the brain focused Mind Diet and Weightwatchers. So, let’s explore this a bit and maybe we can all join in the live longer, happier and healthier party. FYI it’s not just pasta and pizza; but don’t worry, it does involve wine.
What is Mediterranean Food?
It’s fair to say that Mr. Google finds more than one Mediterranean Diet Pyramid and quite a few variations about what’s included. However, one of the most widely accepted and studied formats is from the Oldways Food Alliance.
Looking at how the diet is structured, it’s clear to see that this combines the best from a number of other recommendations, including the recent Lancet report on the best diet for planetary health indicating we need to drastically reduce our meat intake. At the core of the Mediterranean Diet is an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, pulses, legumes, grains and healthy oils. In comparison to our NHS paltry recommendations of 5 a day, in Greece, up to 9 portions of fruit and vegetables is eaten in one day which is also the recent recommendation of leading Nutritional Therapist & Author Amelia Freer. It is notable also that meats and sweets are at the very top of the pyramid, indicating we should be consuming a very small amount less often. And the good news, a healthy amount of red wine (ie. one glass a day) is allowed with the Mediterranean diet; but this is optional for those that choose it.
So just to recap, let’s round up the check list of ingredients for a wholesome Mediterranean diet:
- Olive oil, fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and legumes for everyday meals
- Fish and seafood at least twice a week
- Poultry, eggs and dairy weekly
- Meat and sweets for special occasions only
On the other hand, avoid:
- Added sugars
- Processed meats
- Refined grains
- Other processed goods
All in all, always try to keep it fresh and remember that plant-based foods are your best friends.
Holding the whole thing together, at the base of this food pyramid, is a sense of community and belonging, eating as a family and some regular daily activity.
Mediterranean Diet Health Benefits
Weight loss and weight management is one of the most studied benefits of this diet. One research study found that people who consume this diet only have a risk of 1 in 10 for being overweight, compared to a 1 in 6 risk for those who consume the typical Western diet.
One reason for this is that the diet is high in low energy density foods such as fruits and vegetables, however the high fibre and protein intake also induces satiety which leads to less overall food consumption. This style of eating is also inherently Low GL (Glycamic Load) which helps balance blood sugars. Eating a low GL diet lowers insulin secretion which may contribute to reduced weight gain. Note that all the studies identifying the Mediterranean Diet as beneficial for weight loss remind us that it should be done hand in hand with an energy restriction awareness and with regular activity built in.
However, the Mediterranean diet benefits are not restricted to weight loss. Indeed, this is often seen as an ancillary benefit. According to the Mayo Clinic, following this style of eating is associated with a lower risk of Cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
One of the main strengths of the Mediterranean diet is that it is high in Omega 3 fatty acids which makes it a great basis for an Anti-inflammatory Diet and for reducing risks of cardiovascular diseases.
Omega 3 fats, found in nuts, seeds and oily fish, have been linked to numerous heart health benefits including increasing the amount of amount of “good” cholesterol in your blood, lowering blood pressure, reducing tryglycerides, preventing blood clots and keeping your arteries clear of plaque.
It's also a great boost for mood. Dr Rangan Chatterjee talks about it in his new book The Stress Solution. He comments on the SMILES trial which put patients undergoing treatment for depression on a Mediterannean diet.
It was full of a wide variety of diverse and minimally processed foods varied that were rich in immune-supportive, anti-inflammatory oily fish, olive oil, colourful fruit and vegetables and wholegrains. Twelve weeks later, these patients had a much greater reduction in depressive symptoms than the control group who did not change their diet but were instead given social support.
If all those health-related benefits don’t sway you to try the Mediterranean diet, lets look at some of the benefits for your looks.
“One of the most beneficial diets for your skin is a Mediterranean diet,” says Nutritionist Marcy Dorsey. A typical Mediterranean diet includes olive oil, green vegetables, nuts, and fatty fish. “It’s full of antioxidants to help repair skin damage and healthy fats to keep skin elastic.”
Starting on the Mediterranean Diet - 8 Simple Tips
· Fill ½ your plate with Vegetables and try to eat a wide variety every week
· Cut back on Meat aiming for 1-2 times a week
· Have Dairy in moderation – low fat natural greek yogurt is a good choice
· Eat Seafood twice a week
· Go Vegetarian at least once a week
· Use good Fats eg Olive Oil
· Switch to Wholegrain when choosing pasta, rice and grains
· Have Fruit for Dessert
It's never easy making dietary changes but to move you closer to the mediterranean style of eating and away from our more traditional western style meals, these few simple tips are a first step.
My next blog will have some ideas for switching to a Mediterranean breakfast, lunch and dinner.