Want to live a longer, healthier life? Then you need to start eating like they do in the Mediterranean.
We’ve all heard a great deal about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Earlier this year, it was named the world’s number one diet by the US News & World Report for the fifth year in succession. It’s been linked to longer life, reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease. Even the new ‘longevity diet’ is based on the Mediterranean diet combined with fasting. Best of all, it’s one of the easiest and even enjoyable diets to follow and won’t see you obsessively counting the calories.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The first thing to say about the Mediterranean diet is that it is less a diet and more a set of principles for sensible, healthy eating. It is essentially a plant heavy diet relying on lots of vegetables, beans and legumes with protein coming from fish, poultry and cheeses. Red meats can be included but only in small amounts.
In other words, it’s about eating a little of everything and ensuring you get the healthy balance of nutrition your body needs. A rich and joyful type of diet, it has an emphasis on good food, strong flavours and rich variety.
Some of the healthiest dishes include chickpea salads, lentil soups, baked cod, tuna meatballs and zucchini noodles. Essentially, though, it’s about sticking to certain principles including.
- Eat more vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, beans, legumes and nuts.
- Eat moderate amounts of poultry, fish and eggs in moderation.
- Eat red meats rarely – sweets should also be consumed rarely and in much smaller amounts.
- Avoid processed foods, sugars and any artificial ingredients.
This is a healthy, varied and natural diet which comes with plenty of helpings of extra virgin olive oil with almost everything.
What benefits does the Mediterranean diet have?
The health benefits of Mediterranean diet come backed with extensive scientific evidence. A study from Harvard linked the Mediterranean diet to longer life expectancy. A study of 4,600 women found that those who followed a Mediterranean were more likely to have longer telomeres. These sit at the end of chromosomes and stop them from fraying. Every time the cell divides, they get shorter until they can no longer protect chromosomes. Longer telomeres, therefore, indicate a longer life expectancy.
It has also been found to lower the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes and can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. People who follow a Mediterranean diet have also been shown to be less prone to putting on weight.
It is, then, a good all-round diet for your health, but there is some uncertainty about what exactly makes it so good.
One aspect is the reliance on healthy fats. The heavy use of olive oil means high levels of monosaturated fat while there are also polyunsaturated fats through nuts, seeds and oily fish. Both are much healthier than saturated fats and have been shown to have a number of health benefits including weight loss, reduced risk of diabetes and less inflammation.
It might also have something to do with the lifestyle and the way Mediterranean food is meant to be consumed. It’s designed to be social with people coming together to enjoy a good meal. This can be great for our mood and general mental wellbeing, but it can also encourage people to slow down which can reduce portion size.
Essentially, though, it is the combination of foods which makes the Mediterranean diet so effective, rather than any single ingredient. It is a simple, natural and balanced diet which contains all the nutrients your body needs. As such, it’s a relatively easy way to lose weight without making a special effort to reduce calorie intake.
How can I switch to a Mediterranean diet?
There are plenty of Mediterranean recipes to be found on the internet. Each country around the Med such as Italy, Spain or Greece will have its own take on the idea. Ultimately, though, it’s all about adhering to those key elements of the diet, including plenty of natural ingredients, lots of vegetables and keeping red meat for special occasions.
Avoiding processed foods might be one of the biggest challenges. Everything about our society seems to be tailor made to pointing us in the direction of unhealthy, processed foods with lots of artificial ingredients. To improve your prospects, you can try introducing elements of the Mediterranean diet gradually into your routine.
For example, you could start using olive oil rather than vegetable oil in your cooking. Take time to cook from scratch using all natural ingredients. Even certain ready meals which claim to be healthy will often contain all sorts of unnatural ingredients. For example, it can be tempting to choose a ready-made paella, but if you don’t check the ingredients, you won’t know for certain what you’re putting into your body.
At its heart, Mediterranean cuisine is all about good, wholesome cooking with simple, natural ingredients. Follow these principles and you should enjoy all the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet.