Ahh…the Mediterranean! It congers up thoughts of beautiful sunshine, great food, and siestas! Well, we may not be able to do much about our weather, or the siesta for that matter, but thankfully we can do something about the food we eat!
What is the traditional Mediterranean diet? This is the type of diet followed in Greece, Crete, southern France, and parts of Italy that emphasises fruits and vegetables, nuts, grains, olive oil (as opposed to butter), grilled, or steamed chicken, and seafood (as opposed to red meat).
The foods that are commonly eaten will vary significantly from one Mediterranean country to another, however, the shared features of what is usually spoken of as the ‘Mediterranean diet’ include:
- High consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Olive oil is the key monounsaturated fat source.
- Dairy products, fish and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts.
- Little red meat is eaten.
- Eggs are eaten zero to four times a week.
Sue Baic, Registered Dietitian and Spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA), says: “Studies looking at the diets of thousands of people around Europe have confirmed the health advantages of the Mediterranean style diet. The good news is this research shows you don’t actually need to live near the Mediterranean to get the benefit. No matter where you come from, the closer your diet matches the typical Mediterranean style diet, the lower your likelihood of developing problems such as heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.”
This is great news! So, how can we start following a Mediterranean style diet? Here are five easy steps:
1. Fill up on fruit and veg
Aim to eat a minimum of five portions of differing coloured fruits and vegetables each day. Please check out my my previous article, Taste the Rainbow, for 10 tips on increasing your fruit and veg intake. Remember, fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruits and vegetables can all be counted. Beans, pulses, and 100% juice smoothies count as well, but only as one portion a day, no matter how much we have.
2. Feast on fish
We should try to include fish more regularly in our weekly diet. It is also important to make one of these portions oily. Check out Understanding Omega-3s, for more tips on the benefits, and best sources of omega-3 oils. Again, fresh, smoked, frozen and canned varieties are all suitable options.
3. Choose your fats wisely
Use vegetable oils, such as olive or rapeseed oil in moderation for cooking, or as a dressing in salads. Switch to using the soft spreads made from these oils on bread etc, if you are not doing so already, and look out for labeling terms such as “olive based spread,” when making your purchase. It is also important that we try to cut back on the “bad” fats in our diet. We can do this by reducing our intake of foods such as butter, cream, or fatty meat products like sausages, pies and streaky bacon. Trimming the visible fat from cuts of red meat, removing the skin from chicken, and limiting our intake of fried fast food to no more than once each week, will also help to reduce our intake of saturated fat.
4. Make your grains whole
Try to replace refined cereal foods with wholegrain varieties wherever possible. We should aim to eat at least half of our starchy carbohydrates as wholegrains. This would be at least two to three servings each day. Look for labeling terms such as, wholegrain, wholewheat, oats, barley, rye. You may want to check out part 2 of my series in the Balance of Good Health, for more detailed information on choosing carbohydrate foods.
5. Snack on nuts
Walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts are important ingredients in many popular Mediterranean recipes, they are also eaten as snacks or appetisers, accompanied by fruit or cheese. Try to include a variety of nuts each day, to benefit from those healthy fats. Remember, nuts are high in fat, so limit your intake to one handful daily.
Original article source BDA (with modification).