The Mediterranean diet: a healthier way to enjoy food
Is there a more pleasurable way to improve your health than enjoying delicious fresh food and the occasional glass of wine in good company? Incredibly, these are among the guidelines of the Mediterranean diet, which can be an easy, inexpensive and hugely satisfying way to eat your way to good health - starting today.
Perhaps one of the world’s healthiest dietary patterns, Mediterranean diet is abundant in greens, legumes, olive oil and whole grains, with a moderate intake of seafood and dairy. These nutrient-rich ‘natural food remedies’ could have a profoundly positive effect on both your physical health and mood.
What are the health benefits?
Modern society is plagued by chronic diseases, many of which are preventable through simple nutrition and lifestyle changes. Recent clinical and academic studies has found robust evidence that people following Mediterranean diet have a decreased risk of serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and even dementia and depression.
Why not take action today to safeguard yourself from major chronic illnesses in the future?
How to eat in the Mediterranean way
To start with, check if your weekly diet meets these Mediterranean diet recommendations:
- Fruits and vegetables – enjoy their various colours, textures and flavours daily - raw or cooked.
- Extra virgin olive oil – use it for cooking, salad dressings and dips. It is a major source of antioxidants and monounsaturated fats, essential for a healthy heart and improved brain function.
- Whole grain products – in the form of bread, pasta, rice, couscous, cereals, and others.
- Legumes – beans, lentils, peas and peanuts are all excellent sources of plant protein and magnesium.
- Spices, herbs, garlic and onions – will introduce a variety of flavours and palatability to dishes and allow for a reduction in salt.
- Dairy products – go for low-fat yoghurt, cheese and other fermented dairy products.
- Fish and seafood – choose fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel and lean fish.
- White meat (poultry, turkey, rabbit) and eggs – are good sources of animal protein.
- Red wine – to accompany meals - in moderation.
- Red meat (especially processed meat) is associated with some chronic diseases.
There are an endless number of tasty dishes consisting of a variety of flavours and textures which you can make using these ingredients. Here are some easy tips to get you started:
A quick start to a Mediterranean diet
- Instead of vegetable oil, use extra virgin olive oil
- Instead of fried bacon, eat some grilled halloumi cheese
- Instead of ranch dip, eat spicy salsa or hummus for a change
- Instead of sweets and pastries, eat fruits, berries and nuts for dessert
- Instead of soft drinks, drink water (1.5–2 litres per day is recommended)
- Instead of meat, eat fish or vegetarian food at least once a week
- Instead of fast food, cook at home and share food with the people you love
Social values and exercise are also vital
However, we do not live by bread alone. A true Mediterranean diet emphasises the social values of food sharing and hospitality - an integral part of the region’s cultural identity. The Mediterranean people take their time at the dinner table and enjoy the food on offer, often sharing it with family and friends. Such a relaxed attitude not only relieves symptoms of stress and depression, but also helps our bodies to digest food and absorb nutrients. Remember this the next time you are indulging in fast food on the go or eating in front of the television…
Furthermore, daily physical activity and adequate rest are no less important in the context of the healthy Mediterranean lifestyle.
History of the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet is not about weight loss, but rather a lifestyle approach inspired by the culinary habits of Crete, Greece and southern Italy. Back in 1960s, scientists found that the people living in these areas had very low heart disease rates, while their life expectancy was among the highest in the world. The secret of their health and longevity was related to the plant-based diet and unique culinary traditions typical of the Mediterranean basin.
Ever since then, the Mediterranean diet has featured in scientific studies as a balanced, healthy, ecological and culturally-significant dietary pattern. In 2013, it was placed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.