The Mediterranean Diet made easy
The Mediterranean Diet (MedDiet) has well-publicised health benefits, including reducing the risk of stroke and heart disease. It still managed to hit the headlines earlier this year with a report it could help women reduce the risk of contracting one of the worst types of breast cancer by 40%.
According to a study for the World Cancer Research Fund, published in the International Journal of Cancer, the MedDiet could significantly reduce the chances of women getting oestrogen-receptor-negative (ER-negative) breast cancer, a postmenopausal form of the disease that cannot be treated with hormone therapy.
However, one of the most interesting aspects of the study is how it helps confirm that it is the food elements of the diet that is critical, not the environment. Factors such as sunshine, an outdoor lifestyle or locally available produce may make the adoption of the diet easier, but it is the consumption of the food that brings the results.
So, what makes for a typical MedDiet?
Many people in the UK believe they embrace the MedDiet by eating pizza, lasagne and patatas bravas, but unfortunately the eagerness of Mediterranean hostelries to accommodate the taste buds of British tourists, combined with processed products produced by Big Food, has helped create a bogus idea of a typical MedDiet. Yet the genuine influences stretch back over thousands of years.
The Mediterranean has been a crossroads of people and civilizations and it is the magical mixture of time, cultures, foods, flora, and environment that have come together to create the key parts of a nutritionist’s concept of a classic MedDiet.
The importance of the rich history of the region can’t be underestimated. Some plants, like the olive tree, wheat, and the vine have been recorded there since the dawn of time. Yet a Roman Tribune wouldn’t have recognised a tomato or a potato. Staples such as oranges and lemons, never mind aubergines, corn, rice and beans were also imported across time. Yet all of them have found their way into the modern understanding of a MedDiet.
Olive oil occupies a commanding position, and not only because of olive oil’s beneficial properties, but because it facilitates the consumption of large quantities of vegetables and legumes in the form of raw salads and cooked foods.
Our understanding of what is essential in a MedDiet should flow from this foundation. Other key components include: high consumption of fruits, high consumption of whole grains, low consumption of meat and meat products, moderate consumption of milk and dairy products and finally moderate consumption of red wine.
In my own view, one of the best examples of the MedDiet can be found in the traditional eating habits of the islanders of Crete. I have experienced some of the most wonderful meals in small side-street Tavernas there. Typically meals are usually accompanied by decent quantities of whole grain bread. Legumes and vegetables are consumed in large amounts in cooked dishes, soups, and salads prepared with olive oil. Intake of milk is moderate, but consumption of cheese and yogurt is high; feta cheese is regularly added to salads and vegetable stews. Traditionally meat, being expensive, was less frequently consumed, whereas fish was readily available from the sea. Meanwhile wine is consumed in moderation (though not necessarily when I’m on holiday) and almost always during meals. Fruit is readily available for dessert, with a personal favourite wonderful sweet watermelon.
Translated this into modern city living means adopting a diet that is plant-based in nature, with a heavy emphasis on fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, seeds, beans and olive oil. Eggs, dairy, poultry and fish are consumed regularly, but the portions might be smaller than typically consumed in a Western diet. Meat should make only an occasional appearance (with the added benefit of saving money) perhaps added in smaller amounts to make sauces, beans and pasta dishes more flavourful.
At the same time it’s important to cut down on sugar, refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. Eat only on occasions, if at all.
Read more about how healthy eating can be affordable and easy.
If you want help adopting any aspects of the MedDiet, download Just Routine, the Real Food App. It can help make understanding a MedDiet easy, while the Premium Cookbook – which you can experiment with for free – has hundreds of recipes to help make it work for you.
Interested in the significant health benefits a MedDiet can bring? Make eating real food Just Routine.
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