What makes for a MedDiet?
Japan has long held the title of the country where people have the longest life expectancy. Now, largely thanks to what they eat, people in Spain are predicted to take the number one spot by 2040.
According to the highly respected Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, which has produced the forecasts, in the next 20 years the most important threats to our healthspan will be obesity, high blood pressure and blood sugar, tobacco use and drinking alcohol. The well-publicised health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet (MedDiet) is what they expect to propel the people of Spain into the healthspan top spot. And while factors such as sunshine, an outdoor lifestyle or locally available produce may make adoption of the diet easier, it is the consumption of the food that brings the results.
So, what makes for a typical MedDiet?
Eating pizza, lasagne and patatas bravas doesn’t count! The genuine influences stretch back over thousands of years, with the history of the region as a crossroads of people and civilizations contributing key elements of a nutritionist’s concept of a classic MedDiet. Some plants, like the olive tree, wheat, and the vine have been recorded there since the dawn of time. Yet staples such as tomatoes, potatoes, oranges and lemons, never mind aubergines, corn, rice and beans have been imported across time. All of them are at home in the modern understanding of a MedDiet.
It all rests on olives
Olive oil occupies a commanding position, and not only because of olive oil’s beneficial properties, but because its use in cooking and salad dressings encourages the consumption of large quantities of vegetables and legumes. Salads and Mediterranean cooked foods wouldn’t be the same without it, so our understanding of what is essential in a MedDiet should flow from this foundation. Other key components include:
- a high consumption of fruits
- high consumption of whole grains
- low consumption of meat and meat products
- moderate consumption of milk and dairy products
- moderate consumption of red wine
One of the best examples of the MedDiet can be found in the traditional eating habits of the islanders of Crete. 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 and almost always during meals. Fruit is readily available for dessert, with a personal favourite wonderful sweet watermelon.
Translating 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, cut down on sugar, refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats. Eat only on rare occasions, if at all.
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