The Mediterranean diet has stood the test of time
Way back in 1993, Oldways created the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. 26 years later, the U.S. News & World Report ranked the Mediterranean diet as the Best Diet Overall. This was a ranking of 39 diets based on input from a panel of health experts. Today, a growing number of studies link Mediterranean eating to a range of health benefits.
Unlike many diet plans, there are no rules or counting with the Mediterranean diet; it’s simply about adopting a general balanced lifestyle, eating fewer processed foods and enjoying a range of mainly plant-based foods with fish twice a week, moderate amounts dairy and eggs, and a little fresh meat.
One of the biggest advantages 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 also play a part in why the Mediterranean diet is linked to good health and longevity.
There are countless really robust studies that demonstrate it’s good for our health, and in particular our heart. A 2016 global study of more than 15,000 people who were at high risk of heart disease showed that following a Mediterranean diet made them less likely to have a heart attack or stroke. I like quoting this study because interestingly, it shows that eating more of the Med foods was more important in reducing risks than cutting down on unhealthy foods. It’s part of my “eat” rather than “don’t eat” philosophy!
Here I give you some of the foodie facts that make this way of eating so globally acclaimed.
Love your Legumes
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 advises us to eat them regularly as a protein source.
Research suggests that legumes can help to reduce risks of heart disease, and improve blood glucose control in diabetes. Both canned and dried pulses give you fibre and protein. These nutrients can improve feelings of fullness after a meal, so eating more beans in place of higher calorie protein sources could help you manage your weight.
A serving of three heaped tablespoons of beans or pulses counts once as one of your 5-a-day. The more variety the better, as you get a wider range of nutrients, and plant diversity is better for your beneficial gut bacteria.
3 ways to add beans to your meals
- Make your own hummus with canned chick peas, garlic, Greek yogurt and a drizzle of olive oil.
- Throw a handful of red lentils into a curry, casserole or soup.
- Scatter peanuts onto salad – yes, peanuts are a legume!
Tomatoes contain beta-carotene, which is converted into Vitamin A in the body. This is a fat-soluble vitamin; adding fat, such as a drizzle of olive oil, will help your body to absorb and make use of the vitamin A. This is one of the Nutrient Bridges I recommend in my latest book Vegan Savvy. 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 to make sure you absorb your Vitamin A.
Of course, fruit and vegetables are a huge part of the Mediterranean diet and eating up to 10 portions has been linked with living longer and reduced risk of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and some cancers. Here’s how to find out what counts as a portion.
Eat less meat
This is my current area of interest. The more I read about plant-based eating, the more I am convinced we would all benefit from a little less meat and little more plants. You need to discover what works best for you – perhaps try avoiding meat on a Monday, or making your lunches meat-free.
This is about using colourful plant foods as the hero items on your plate. In a sense, it’s getting away from thinking “meat and two veg”, and moving towards thinking “veg, veg and a little (or no) meat”. I explain this in my plate model called VVPC. Eating this way will help you to:
- include more fibre
- get powerful plant phytochemicals and anti-oxidants
- lower the glycaemic impact of your meal, which means you’ll have more steady blood glucose levels
- manage your blood cholesterol
- watch your weight, especially if you have more whole plant foods that can help to fill you up.
Research is on-going and there are still studies looking at the association of Mediterranean eating to a range of health benefits. Check out my Spanish chicken recipe if you like peppers and jalapenos!