We are all aware that our modern Western diets and lifestyles are contributing to many diseases.  The Western diet is typically high in animal fats and preservatives (specifically salt) and low fruit and vegetables and it is this food combination that has been shown to be responsible (in part) for the cause of chronic diseases and cancers.

One of the best solutions that have come to light to improve our health is the Mediterranean diet.

Studies have shown that following this type of eating style over a number of years reduces the risk of developing heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.  Following the diet has also been associated with a reduced risk of early death and has been shown to be an effective way for healthy weight loss.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean Diet is a pattern of food proportions rather than a specific list of food that you should or should not eat.  It maximises the intake of essential health-promoting nutrients by emphasising a diet that is rich in vegetables, fruit, legumes (peas, beans, lentils) and grains and moderate in chicken and fish.  Most of the fat that is incorporated into the diet comes from olive oil and nuts.  The benefit from the Mediterranean diet comes from the dietary pattern.  This is much greater than the health properties of each type of food separately.

Overall, the typical Western and Mediterranean diets are quite similar in total fat content.  However the Mediterranean Diet is higher in the health-protective mono-unsaturated fat, which is where many of the health benefits come from.

An ‘Ideal’ Mediterranean Diet:

  • Enjoy lots of vegetables, legumes, fruit, and whole grains; use a large variety of these foods when planning meals

  • Eat a moderate amount fish, white meats, nuts, low-fat dairy products, and wine.  Cottage cheese, mozzarella, ricotta and feta are some of the lower fat cheeses

  • Have a limited intake of red meat, eggs, potatoes, sweets and sweet desserts.  Potatoes are often thought of as a vegetable, but have different properties, so are counted separately from vegetable intake

  • Use mono-unsaturated fat (e.g. olive oil) rather than saturated animal fat (e.g. butter). The traditional Mediterranean people do not like butter; they prefer the popular snack of toast

    drizzled with a little olive oil, herbs and garlic

  • Use only small amounts of added salt.  Herbs can be used for flavouring in place of excess salt

  • Limit your intake of highly processed ‘fast foods’ and ‘ready meals’, especially those where you cannot tell saturated fat, trans-fat and salt contents

  • Snack on fruit, dried fruit and unsalted nuts rather than cakes, crisps and biscuits

  • Water is the best ‘non-alcoholic beverage’ (as opposed to sugary drinks), although health benefits have also been claimed for various teas and coffee

Research shows that people who adopt a strict Mediterranean diet and exercise regularly often find it helps keep their weight under control too.  This is because the meals are packed with fruit, vegetables and grains and are quite filling, which helps with portion control and excess snacking.  If you find that you are not losing weight you need to become more conscious of the quantities you are eating.  Speak to your dietician about how to incorporate the Mediterranean style eating into a weight loss solution.

Conclusion

In combination with moderate exercise and not smoking, the Mediterranean Diet offers a scientifically researched, affordable, balanced, and health-promoting lifestyle choice.