The Mediterranean diet wasn’t created in a lab or hospital. It has evolved over 5000 years and is simply the diet eaten by those living in Mediterranean countries including Greece and Italy. There is no set diet because each region used whatever food was available to them, common features are fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil, yoghurt, cheese, grains and occasionally red meat and seafood.
The diet claims and has been shown in numerous clinical trials to protect against heart disease, most predominately in high risk groups (ie people with a family history and high blood pressure), reduce blood pressure and levels of LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol.
In 2013 a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 30% of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in high risk people if they switch to a Mediterranean diet. This study actually ended early because the results were so profound!
What about other health conditions like metabolic syndrome (large amounts of abdominal or belly fat, insulin resistance, high blood sugars and obesity)? Well a study published in 2014 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal showed that this diet helped REVERSE metabolic syndrome in those who already suffered metabolic syndrome.
So what is actually involved? What do these people eat?
The majority of this diet is based upon wholegrains, vegetables, fruits, olive oil and a modest amount of red wine.
Wholegrains, vegetables and fruits are often eaten at every meal. There is a big focus on eating grains in their natural form or as least processed as possible. Grains commonly consumed are barley, buckwheat, bulgur wheat (used in tabouli), faro, oats, polenta, rice, breads, couscous and pasta.
Interestingly, Mediterranean diets often include up to 4 pieces of fruit daily. These people are not scared of fructose in their fruit because this is one of their only sources of natural sugar. It is highlighted that eating fruit with its skin is important because of the fibre it contains.
Other key parts of the diet are:
- Olive oil which is used as the primary fat source and regarded as one of the keys to heart health
- Legumes, nuts, seeds and eggs are used as protein sources and eaten more regularly than animal based proteins
- Cheese & yoghurt are eaten regularly but in low to moderate amounts
- Fish and shellfish are very common protein sources in the diet, eaten up to 4 times per week. The most common types are oily fish like tuna, herring, sardines and salmon as well as prawns, muscles and clams. This makes the diet very high in omega-3 fats which are not only linked to heart health but also improved cognition. Most importantly seafood is typically not battered and fried.
- Lean red meats are only eaten occasionally, for instance 1 every week or two and in small portions (think the size of your hand). Meat containing meals are always accompanied with lots of vegetables and wholegrains.
- Red wine is also commonly consumed, but in moderation. The recommendation is one glass some evenings.
There are no nutritional ‘ dangers’ of this diet because there is a large focus on moderation. Food is enjoyed in the right proportions. There are rich foods and strong flavours that encourage people to balance their meals and eat mindfully. Of course as with any diet, if you over consume these foods then it will not be a magic pill to weight loss.
The incorporation of wholegrains, vegetables and fruits at almost every meal is one of the key reasons why this diet has so many health benefits. These staple foods in combination with the large proportion of monounsaturated good have been shown to promote heart health. Provided you remember modest portion size this diet is nutritionally sound!
Easy! This style of eating is safe for all ages and lifestyles. The foods commonly used are available in all areas and the reduced reliance on meat means the costs are kept down.
I can’t say more positive things about the focus on basing ones diet predominately on vegetables, fruit and wholegrains. Think of it as a pyramid; make the majority of your meals based on the above three food groups then sprinkle in the other components to create tasty and enjoyable meals. Salute!
For more information about this diet checkout Zoe Nicholson’s Facebook and website as well as the Moderation Movement.
More articles on My Health Career:
- Hot (or not) diets – the 5:2 – by APD Katrina Mills
- The influence of Omega-3 on postnatal depression – by Melanie McGrive, AdvAPD
- Are your clients going gluten free for the right reasons? By Sally Marchini APD
Accredited practicing dietitian (APD) Katrina Mills was one of the accredited practicing dietitians who was featured in a podcast about the 5:2 diet. Click here for the podcast. Katrina is most likely to be found walking, swimming or hitting the gym if she’s not creating, cooking, eating or researching nourishing tasty foods.