You’ve probably heard of the Mediterranean Diet, but you may not be clear on how it works, and why. Here in Spain, where olive oil is king and fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful, cheap and in season, following this healthy eating plan is easy and economical. Here’s how to get started straight away.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
It’s a traditional way of eating, and it’s been a nutritional model for hundreds of years in Southern Europe. Mediterranean-style eating will increase your health and fitness, help to combat chronic disease, and help you lose weight.Globally, medical professionals and nutritionists consider the Mediterranean Diet to be one of the healthiest eating plans around. And it also happens to be filling and flavourful.
The Mediterranean Diet is a bit of a misnomer, because it isn’t really a diet at all – it’s more like a permanent lifestyle turnaround in attitudes to cooking and eating. At its core are lots fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. There is no room for processed foods or deep fried stuff in the Mediterranean Diet.
The many advantages of adopting the Mediterranean Diet were acknowledged a couple of generations ago. Researchers in the late 1940s found that the natives of Crete were blessed with healthier than average cardiovascular systems, after managing for years on a restricted diet due to wartime food shortages This was put down to eating mainly fresh, seasonal produce. Meat was in short supply, and processed foods pretty much non-existent
More recently, it’s been demonstrated that people eating the Mediterranean way live longer, more active, healthier lives. They also have less chance of developing chronic conditions likes heart disease, diabetes and cancer. At 82.5 years, Spain now enjoys the longest average life expectancy in the whole of Europe.
The Mediterranean Diet can help you to live a longer, healthier life. It’s rich in antioxidants, which serve to inhibit oxidative stress, thereby halving the risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease.
A pivotal requirement of Mediterranean-style eating is regular servings of fish. The Omega-3 oils in tuna and sardines boost brain health, so the likelihood of contracting Alzheimer’s Disease in later life is also reduced.
The Mediterranean Diet is high in fibre, thanks to the fresh fruit and vegetables, and fibreevens out the body’s blood sugar levels and boosts insulin sensitivity. This ‘two for one’ health benefit minimises the chance of diabetes. Refined carbohydrates and red meat only figure on the menu occasionally, so saturated fat content is automatically restricted. This, in turn, makes for a healthy heart.
The Mediterranean Diet in action
Mediterranean menus are built around plant foods. Fruits and vegetables are headliners, and so are chick peas, lentils and beans. Nuts and seeds are supporting actors, with whole grains, rice and pasta making up the chorus and filling in the gaps in the action.
The good folks who call the Mediterranean home region always eat seasonal fruit and vegetables, so the vitamin content is at its peak, delivering a full antioxidant hit. In many cases, salad comes before the main course. This takes the edge off the appetite, so you’re more likely to take smaller portions of the main meal, and also eat more slowly.
There’s not much space for red meat in Mediterranean eating. The main protein sources are poultry, fish and eggs, with the occasional steak. Beans and pulses supply plant protein, with many Spanish recipes including chickpeas or alubias (white, kidney-shaped beans). Fish is grilled, poached, baked, or shallow fried in light batter.
Some Mediterranean nationalities – notably the Spanish and the Italians –really enjoy cured hams and sausages. These products are naturally cured, and contain no chemicals. Therefore they can’t really be considered processed foods.
Herbs and spices, rather than are salt, are the main flavourings for Mediterranean recipes, and butter is only used occasionally. Mediterranean people prefer their bread served with olive oil, garlic mayonnaise, or tomato paste. These are all healthier than butter, with no saturated fat and fewer calories per serving.
On the Mediterranean Diet, wine is fine in moderation. Spirits are an occasional treat – wine and beer goes down better with the lighter way of eating. Alcohol is automatically restricted, as it’s customary to drink with food,, rather than just for the sake of drinking.
The Mediterranean lifestyle
It’s not just the food that makes the Mediterranean Diet healthy – lifestyle is another factor. Life is for living outdoors, with no stress and no rushing around. It’s too hot for that, and Mediterranean people are more laid back than their Northern European counterparts.
When Mediterranean people go home after work, they dine on fresh food, cooked from scratch. They’re happy to spend two hours or more seated at table, savouring the food and chatting between courses. This leisurely approach to eating naturally reduces the intake of food.
It’s roughly 20 minutes until the brain gets the signal that the stomach is full. This is the down to the actions of the hormonal system in which neurotransmitters also play a part. If you bolt down food or eat on the hoof, these signals won’t kick in to curb your appetite. Mediterranean of eating allows plenty of time for the brain to register the ‘full’ feeling.
The Mediterranean Diet is one of the healthiest eating plans in the world. It’s built around high consumption of plant foods, low fat proteins from fish, eggs and poultry, and smaller servings of saturated fats and processed foods. Eating this way minimises the risks of contracting various lifestyle diseases. If you need to lose weight, it’s low in calories and fat, and high in fibre and filling power.
The Mediterranean way of eating is varied, wholesome and healthy. Combined with a low stress lifestyle and a good dose of vitamin D from the sun, it’s no wonder health professionals consider the Mediterranean Diet one of the healthiest eating plans ever.