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The Mediterranean diet and its benefits

About the diet and its benefits

 

The inhabitants of the Mediterranean region of Europe, specifically the areas of Greece, Italy and Spain have a specific diet that they have followed for centuries.

This way of eating focuses on specific food groups that reduces the risk of some diseases including heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Allowed foods

Food eaten on the Mediterranean diets includes the following:

Food Type                                                                            Servings allowed

Dairy 2 servings per day
Olive Oil 2 servings per day
Fruit 3 servings per day
Eggs, Potatoes, Olives, Nuts 3 servings per week
Poultry 4 servings per week
Red meat 4 servings per month
Fish 6 servings per week
Vegetables/Legumes 6 servings per day
Non-refined or whole grain cereals, grains, rice, pasta 8 servings per day

 

As can be seen from the table above, focus is placed on eating many plant based foods including legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts and grains.  Olive oil is the preferred fat used in the region.  Food is typically flavoured using herbs and spices but not much salt.  Red meat is eaten in moderation; most of the protein consumed is in the form of fish and poultry.

The people of the region also drink red wine but in moderation.  Alcohol when consumed in moderation lowers the risk of heart disease.

Starting the Mediterranean way of eating

The following steps should be followed to eat the Mediterranean way.

  • Vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grains should be the main ingredients for each meal. Avoid processed carbohydrates.
  • Fibre is important and can be found in legumes, vegetables, nuts and fruits.
  • Nuts are a perfect snack. Limit to a handful per day due to their high calorie content.
  • Olive oil has many benefits. It can be used in cooking and as a dressing for food.
  • Fish is a good source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids. Try to eat more fatty fish including herring, sardines, mackerel, trout and salmon.
  • Poultry is another good source of protein.
  • Red meat should only be eaten in moderation.
  • Dairy choices should be low fat or fat free options.

The health benefits of the Mediterranean way of eating

There are many health benefits to this way of eating.  The Mediterranean diet:

  • Reduces the chance of heart diseases/strokes.
  • Reduces the chance of cancer.
  • Protection against type 2 diabetes.
  • Reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
  • Increases a person’s lifespan.
  • Weigh loss benefits.

A breakdown of foods for the Mediterranean way of eating

The foods below are staples when eating the Mediterranean way.   Most of these foods have minerals and nutrients that have many healthy benefits which we will see below.

  • Vegetables There are many options that you can choose including aubergine, garlic, broccoli, cabbage, onions, cauliflower, courgettes, leeks, asparagus, lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, carrots and spinach.
  • LegumesLegumes are a favourite of the people of the Mediterranean and include beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils.
  • FruitThere are many fruits to choose from including apples, melons, figs, grapes, olives, plums, oranges, pears, bananas, pineapples, and tomatoes. Fruits, vegetables and legumes provide important fibre, antioxidants, nutrients, minerals and vitamins to your diet.
  • Cereals, pasta, polenta, couscous and rice (whole grain only)

These carbohydrates provide fibre, nutrients, minerals, vitamins and some anti-inflammatory properties.  They also lower the risk of heart disease by lowering the bad cholesterol in your blood.

  • Nuts

Nuts are a great source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals.   They also help to protect you against type 2 diabetes and heart disease and can also lower bad cholesterol levels.  Avoid peanuts (not actually a nut) and any nuts that are salted in any way.

  • Fish/SeafoodFish and seafood are a staple source of protein for the people of the Mediterranean and include anchovy, haddock, mackerel, hake, salmon, halibut, pilchards, herring, mullet, plaice, sardines, turbot, squid, cod, trout, and tuna. Shellfish can also be eaten and includes prawns, lobster and crab. Fish and shellfish are an excellent way to include protein, vitamins, minerals, omega 3 fatty acids and vitamins A and D into your diet.
  • White meatPoultry is another excellent source of protein, vitamin B12 and minerals.
  • Mono-unsaturated fatsThese are found in olive oil, avocados, olives and some nuts. These fats help the body in many ways, including helping it to absorb vitamins and minerals from foods into the system.

Of all the above mentioned foods, one really does stand out as a super food – olive oil.

The benefits of olive oil

Olive oil is the staple fat of the Mediterranean region.  It is not only rich in mono-unsaturated fats essential for our bodies, but it also contains antioxidants which help fight heart disease, lower cholesterol, help to lower high blood pressure and fight cancer.   These antioxidants also help to increase the good cholesterol levels in blood while reducing the bad cholesterol levels.

When these antioxidants found in olive oil are consumed with omega 3 fatty acids, their combination can help reduced hardening and narrowing of arteries, a common problem in people with heart disease that often results in heart attacks.

The antioxidants in olive oil can also help to reduce the progression of type 2 diabetes by preventing harmful toxic cells from destroying pancreatic cells that produce insulin.

Olive oil can also slow down the growth of cancer cells, a fact seen in lower cancer rates of Mediterranean people particularly in instances of bowel and prostate cancer.  These cancers are directly related to a person’s dietary intake.

The Mediterranean diet does not only offer varied ingredient options but also offers many health benefits for anyone undertaking this way of eating.