Everything you need to know about the Mediterranean diet
Learn more about the diet that is meant to improve your health.
You may have heard about the Mediterranean diet from a friend, or even a medical professional. Quite often the Mediterranean diet is recommended as an easy lifestyle change that can help better your health, but what does it involve?
In this blog we include:
- What the Mediterranean diet is
- How the Mediterranean diet can improve your health
- Top five tips on how to follow the Mediterranean diet
- A Mediterranean diet shopping list
- Whether the Mediterranean diet is right for you
What is the Mediterranean diet?
When you think of the Mediterranean, you think of clear skies, warm sun, and yummy food. Believe it or not, the Mediterranean diet stems from the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea (such as France, Greece, Italy, and Spain), and their healthy living habits.
A traditional Mediterranean diet is usually :
- Low in meat and dairy products
- High in vegetables, fruit, nuts, grains, and unsaturated fats
- Low in alcohol
- High in seafood (especially oily fish)
How can a Mediterranean diet improve my health?
Over the years, research has shown that the Mediterranean diet is associated with reductions in several conditions, including :
- Overall mortality
- Cardiovascular disease
It has also been linked to a reduced risk for cancers, including:
It’s suggested that the reduction of risks for these conditions is down to the range of anti-inflammatory foods that make up the Mediterranean diet.
Anti-inflammatory foods include:
- Green leafy vegetables
- Oily fish
- Nuts (like almonds and walnuts)
Anti-inflammatory foods are most well known for their improvements in heart and circulatory health. This is because of the high volume of unsaturated fats (found in olive oil, oily fish, and nuts).
The Mediterranean diet is also thought to be protective against type 2 diabetes and also helps people with diabetes, control their blood sugar levels.
How do I follow the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional (more rural) life, whereby people were limited to only eating whatever they could grow and catch.
The perfect Mediterranean plate is:
- Nutritionally balanced
- Full of flavour and texture
To help you create the perfect Mediterranean plate, we’ve put together five tips for following the Mediterranean diet.
Five top tips for following the Mediterranean diet
1. Eat your five-a-day
Eating at least five portions of fruit and vegetables (two and a half portions of each), can help to aid digestion, keep the bowel healthy, and reduce cholesterol, in turn reducing the risk of developing diseases such as cardiovascular disease .
2. Bulk your meals with starch and fibre
Basing your meals with starchy whole grains such as rice, pasta, and barley can help to keep you fuller for longer. It can also increase your fibre intake.
Including fibre such as beans, nuts, and seeds helps to keep your gut healthy, but also reduces your risk of conditions, such as :
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Bowel cancer
3. Don’t shy away from healthy fats
When thinking of healthy foods, you don’t automatically think of fats. But it’s important to remember that some fats (such as unsaturated fats) are an important part of your diet.
Fats are important in helping to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. Therefore, excluding healthy fats can lead to deficiencies.
Foods that contain healthy fats include:
- Olive oil
Unsaturated fats can also help to improve your levels of good cholesterol and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease .
4. Keep your meat and dairy intake low
Eating meat can be a good source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. However too much red or processed meat (over 70g a day) can have an impact on your health .
Some meats are high in saturated fat, which can raise your cholesterol levels if you eat too much.
Instead, switch to some more plant-based foods or fish. Fatty fish such as herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon, and tuna should be eaten regularly as they are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. And having a healthy amount of omega-3 in your diet can reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes .
For dairy products, it is recommended to switch out full-fat for either low-fat, or fat-free products. Or you could go for a dairy-free option that is fortified with necessary vitamins such as vitamin B12 and calcium.
5. Be aware of what you drink
Part of the traditional Mediterranean diet also considers what you drink alongside the food you eat. Unlike most diets, this one doesn’t restrict alcohol, but instead recommends a sensible amount of wine consumption.
Remember, the NHS recommendation is to keep your alcoholic units below 14 units a week .
It is also recommended to switch out your fizzy drinks for six to eight glasses of water. Fizzy drinks often contain sugar and can lead to obesity, which can, in turn, heighten your risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes .
A Mediterranean diet shopping list
So, you now have some top tips, but what exactly do you need to buy to get started?
Here are a few ideas on what to add to your trolley next time you go shopping:
- Greek yoghurt
- Berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Nuts (almonds, cashews)
- Wholegrains (brown rice, quinoa)
- Leafy greens (kale, spinach)
- Beans (chickpeas, butter beans, black beans)
- Fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel)
Is the Mediterranean diet right for me?
Whenever you hear the word diet, you may relate it to weight loss. The Mediterranean diet however should not be seen as a weight loss diet, instead, a lifestyle and diet change that can help better your health and reduce your risk of developing certain health conditions.
The Mediterranean diet fits alongside the principles of the Eatwell Guide, which sets out how to eat a healthy and balanced diet. And it is often recommended by medical professionals as part of treatment plans for conditions such as high blood pressure or cholesterol.
That is not to say that if using the Mediterranean diet, you won’t lose weight. It is quite possible as the foods included can help you feel fuller for longer, and the healthy fats and protein help to keep your blood sugar levels stable, meaning you are less likely to reach for ultra-processed snacks higher in fat.
The Mediterranean diet may not be for everyone, but it is a good middle ground for people that want to eat a more healthy, balanced diet without restricting themselves too much.
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