Eating the Mediterranean Way
The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan based on all the classic foods and beverages that were consumed in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea in the 1960s.
The diet is focused on more good fats (monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fats), less bad fats (saturated & trans fats) and overall more fresh than processed food items. It is important to note that the Mediterranean diet is not a weight loss diet but rather a way of eating that can lead to weight loss and overall better health.
Researchers have shown that the Mediterranean diet protects against cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Recent studies show that greater adherence to this Mediterranean diet is associated with a 9% reduction in cardiovascular disease. The diet is thought to have a positive effect on different risk factors for heart disease and stroke such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar control and weight.
Key components of the Mediterranean diet are:
Eating primarily plant-based foods e.g. fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil.
Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavour foods.
Replacing red meat with fish and poultry & eating fish at least twice a week.
Drinking red wine in moderation
Getting plenty of exercise is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle.
Fruit and vegetables are an important part of your overall healthy eating plan. They are high in vitamins, minerals and fibre and low in fat and calories. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables may help you control your weight, your blood pressure, and help with the lowering of your cholesterol.
Nuts and seeds are another important component of the Mediterranean diet. They are high in the good fats (poly and monounsaturated fats). However nuts are also high in calories and therefore should not be taken in large amounts – generally no more than a handful a day. For the best nutrition, avoid candied or honey-roasted and heavily salted nuts.
In contrast to the popular low carbohydrates diets, the Mediterranean diet promotes eating more whole grain bread, brown rice, wholegrain pasta, and cereals.
However it is important to replace unhealthy fats as found in butter with olive oil based spreads when eating bread. Healthy fats The focus of the Mediterranean diet isn’t on limiting total fat consumption, but rather to make wise choices about the types of fat you eat.
The Mediterranean diet promotes the good fats (mono & polyunsaturated fats) and discourages the bad fats (saturated fats and trans fats), which are known to increase cholesterol.
The Mediterranean diet features olive oil as the primary source of fat. Olive oil provides monounsaturated fat, which is a type of fat that can help reduce your cholesterol levels when used in place of saturated or trans fats. “Extra-virgin” and “virgin” olive oils are the least processed forms and contain the highest levels of anti-oxidants, which are good for your heart.
Rapeseed oil is equally as beneficial for your heart health, and it is only a fraction of the cost. Omega-3 fats are another important component of the Mediterranean diet. These fats are found in oily fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon. Omega-3 fats help lower your cholesterol, decrease blood clotting, improve the health of your blood vessels, and help moderate blood pressure.
The Mediterranean diet encourages fish at least twice a week. Remember fresh, frozen and tinned fish are all equally as good! Wine Alcohol, in moderation, is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. However, some health care professionals are reluctant to encourage alcohol consumption because of the health consequences of excessive drinking.
The Mediterranean diet typically includes a moderate amount of wine. This means no more than 14 units for women and 21 units for men per week. A bottle of wine can range between 7 and 10 units of alcohol. Exceeding the weekly units increases the risk of health problems, including increased risk of certain types of cancer.
Putting it all together The Mediterranean diet is a delicious and healthy way to eat. Here are some specific steps to get you started:
- Increase fruit & veg intake.
- Strive for five plus portions a day. (Remember frozen vegetables are as good as fresh vegetables)
- Switch to whole grains. Switch to whole-grain bread and cereal, and begin to eat more brown rice and wholegrain pasta.
- Snack on nuts. Go for unsalted nuts as a healthy snack. However limit to one handful per day.
- Avoid the butter. Choose a low fat spread instead of butter. Spread very thinly on bread. Spice it up. Season your meals with herbs and spices rather than salt.
- Eat more fish. Eat fish at least twice a week. Fresh, frozen or tinned fish is perfect. Opt for more oily fish like salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel and herring.
- Limit red meat. Limit red meat intake to max three times a week.
- Choose low-fat dairy. Limit cheese intake to twice a week – watch portion carefully!
- Alcohol in moderation. If you don’t drink alcohol, you don’t need to start.