The Mediterranean diet is one of the most researched diets with the evidence showing that it reduces your risk for developing heart disease, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, improves blood sugar control in those with type 2 diabetes, and even prevents against cognitive decline, dementia, depression and anxiety. Because of the anti-inflammatory properties of many of the constituents of the Mediterranean diet, studies have even shown that it can reduce pain associated with obesity.
Not only does this balanced way of eating prove to be beneficial, it is also sustainable. These foods are available in your local grocery store, are easy to make at home, can be easily found at restaurants and are delicious!
A Mediterranean diet is one that consists of meals that are high in vegetables and fruits, mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs – the good fats), wholegrains and even includes some wine. This is the dietary pattern of the people from a Greek island, Crete. Foods that are often included:
- Vegetables and fruit
- Whole grains (quinoa, couscous, wheat, brown/wild rice, oats, barley, buckwheat, bulgur wheat, millet, polenta and wholewheat pastas, breads and crackers)
- Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans)
- Nuts and seeds
- Moderate amounts of fish and poultry
- Olive oil – main source of fat
- Moderate consumption of wine
Sources of MUFA’s:
- Nuts, such as almonds, cashews, pecans and macadamias
- Canola oil
- Nut butters and peanut oil
- Olives and olive oil
How to eat like a Greek
- Your main source of fat should be extra virgin olive oil. Aim for about 60ml of olive oil per day. Try to keep the oil raw / unheated by adding to your salads and vegetables. If you heat it up, make sure that it does not start to smoke. Limit all saturated fats like fat from meat and chicken skin, full cream dairy products and butter or seed oils. Instead of adding mayonnaise or salad dressings to your salads, rather add olive oil and balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.
- Eat a variety of vegetables daily – with every meal. Add grilled tomatoes to your breakfasts, include plenty of leafy greens in your lunch and dinner.
- Have at least 2 meat free, legume based meals per week.
- Eat at least 3 servings of fish per week. Try to include oily fish that are high in omega-3 such as: Mackerel, salmon, pilchards, sardines, trout (these can be canned or fresh). Remember canned tuna is not very high in omega-3, but a good source of lean protein.
- Limit your intake of meat such as beef, pork and lamb to twice per week, and limit your portion sizes too – no more than 90g per meal.
- Snack on fresh fruit, dried fruit and nuts daily. These can also be dessert options. Remember that dried fruits and nuts are very high in energy, so portion control here is important.
- Include about 200g of yoghurt daily.
- Include wholegrain breads and wholegrains (portion control is important here – aim for 2 slices of wholegrain bread at a time, and 1-2 portions of wholegrains daily).
- If you drink alcohol, rather opt for red wine in moderation with meals (about 100ml per day). Have 2-3 alcohol free days per week. Red wine has a higher level of heart-protective antioxidants than white wine.