The Mediterranean diet is simply about adopting a general lifestyle, eating fewer processed foods and enjoying a range of mainly plant-based foods with fish around twice a week, moderate amounts dairy foods and eggs, and a little fresh meat.
The Mediterranean Diet and why we like it
At the Food Doctor, we’re into facts not fads.
Unlike many diet plans, there are no rules or counting; it’s simply about adopting a general lifestyle, eating fewer processed foods and enjoying a range of mainly plant-based foods with fish around twice a week, moderate amounts dairy foods and eggs, and a little fresh meat. But there isn’t really one “Mediterranean diet” as eating habits vary from country to country – people in Spain eat differently to Italians!
The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) has stood the test of time. In 1993, Oldways created the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. This is a partnership with Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organisation. The main foods of the Pyramid are cereal grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, herbs, spices, nuts and healthy fats such as olive oil. Fast forward to 2019 and the US News & World Report ranked the Mediterranean diet as the Best Diet Overall.
The MedDiet is broadly acknowledged by many health professionals to offer a range of health benefits, and there are a growing number of studies linking a Mediterranean lifestyle to reduced risks of chronic diseases. Systematic reviews (which are described as the most reliable source of evidence) suggest that a MedDiet can help prevent conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
A big advantage when you live in countries like Greece or Spain is the abundance of locally produced fresh food, which contributes to sustainability and nutrition. And cultural and social habits no doubt play a part in why the Mediterranean diet is linked to good health and longevity.
Here we give you some of the foodie facts that make this way of eating so globally acclaimed.
We all need some fat. You need it for energy and to absorb fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D and E. Some fats are essential, such as omega-3 fatty acids, found mainly in oily fish. Most fats have a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats. “Sat fats” found mainly in animal products like fatty meats and full-fat dairy foods, are considered to be less healthy as they have been shown to raise blood cholesterol.
Better to replace these with unsaturated fats such as olive or rapeseed oil, and fat found in avocadoes, nuts and seeds. Enter the Mediterranean diet –the traditional diet is relatively high in fat, coming from all these foods, yet it’s lower in saturated fats as people in the Med tend to eat fewer processed and fatty meats.
Many high fibre foods come with extra nutrients. For example, the richest source of nutrients such as protein, fibre ad B vitamins in a wheat grain are found in the germ and bran layer. Other nutrient-rich high fibre favourites in the Mediterranean region include a plethora of colourful vegetables, fruits, nuts and legumes.
Pass the Beans
Beans and pulses are a low-fat source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals, and they count once towards your recommended five daily portions of fruit and vegetables. The Government Eatwell Guide clearly shows we should aim to eat more of them.
Both canned and dried pulses give you fibre and protein. Three heaped tablespoons of cooked beans or pulses count once as one of your 5-a-day. The more variety the better, as you get a wider range of nutrients. Try adding add a can of kidney beans into chilli, some sweetcorn to your tuna salad, or make your own hummus with canned chick peas, garlic, Greek yogurt and a drizzle of olive oil.
Check out our five-a-day posts for fruity facts and recipe tips. We adore the variety of fruit and vegetables that are characteristic of the Mediterranean, but since tomatoes appear in Greek salads, pasta, tapas and pizza, we thought we’d single them out here.
Tomatoes contain an anti-oxidant called lycopene, which becomes more potent on cooking or processing. So, cooking tomatoes, or eating canned tomatoes can give you more goodness than fresh!
They also give you beta-carotene, which is converted into Vitamin A in the body. This is a fat-soluble vitamin and adding fat, such as a drizzle of olive oil, will make it more bio-available to your body (basically, you’re better able to absorb and make use of it). So, next time you opt for fat-free dressing, think about whether any other part of your meal provides some fat. If not, add a little olive oil, nuts, seeds or avocado.
Sardines and salmon
Fresh grilled sardines on the beachside…not so easy to capture this in the UK, but canned sardines are a perfect way to reach your oily fish target. Although canned tuna doesn’t have omega-3 fatty acids, the good news is that canned sardines still have these essential fats intact. Choose sardines in brine, and rinse them to get rid of some of the sodium.
Other oily fish that give you omega-3 fats include salmon (canned or fresh), fresh tuna, mackerel and herring.
Our 5 top tips for going Mediterranean
- Choose naturally healthy carbs that also give you fibre and nutrients. Try fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans, lentils and whole grains.
- Base your meals on plants. Enjoy small amounts of meat and make meat dishes go further by adding pulses and vegetables.
- Fish comes in so many varieties so try one that tempts you the most. If you prefer the convenient option, go for smoked mackerel, frozen fish fillets or canned fish.
- Good fats help to make food tasty and to absorb important nutrients. Try rapeseed oil in cooking as it has a high smoke point and save olive oil for salads. Sprinkle nuts or seeds onto your breakfast bowl – try our overnight oats.
- Enjoy your food! Take the time to eat slowly and mindfully and savour the flavours in every mouthful.
US News & World Report:
Mediterranean Diet Pyramid:
MedDiet Systematic Reviews:
Mediterranean diet and health outcomes: a systematic meta-review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29992229