The mediterranean diet is one many will have heard of, and it’s as much a real thing as it is a pinch of salt, a concept. The way of eating has become popular since the 1990s in more than just the tourism world – the physiological impact of eating food groups associated with the mediterranean way of life has begun to be established in empirical research. In fact, the dietetics departments in the NHS and beyond advocate a mediterranean based diet for a host of conditions including obesity and diabetes, with a focus on food groups and holistic influences from our warmer European climes.
Plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, pulses (such as beans, chickpeas, and lentils) and nuts, seeds, and legumes are the main components of a Mediterranean diet. Moderate amounts of low-fat dairy products and lean proteins, such as chicken and fish, are included in the diet. Other oils and fats in the diet are swapped out for olive oil. The diet became popular in dietetics research in the 1950s, and few other viable alternatives have become prominent. Most of this research linked ‘blue zones’ where individuals had a high life expectancy like in Italy and Spain, and eventually it was established it may be their diet and lifestyle which accounted for these long-life expectancies. Individuals, no matter where they are from in the world, experience a minimum 10 year life expectancy boost from incorporating the mediterranean diet and regular exercise, something even many prescription drugs for heart disease, diabetes and hyperlipidaemia can’t top.
Plants are naturally high in fibre and low in calories, which helps you feel fuller for longer and contributes to weight loss. There are several benefits to eating in this ‘essence’, not limited to things like a decreased risk of heart attack or stroke. This mainly happens through a lower cholesterol overall by substituting saturated fats in meat and dairy with unsaturated fats such as those found in nuts and olive oil. This reduces hyperlipidemia and high cholesterol. Also, a reduction in Type 2 diabetes risk can be avoided by eating a diet high in plant-based foods. Eating a mediterranean inspired diet can help lower blood glucose levels in diabetics (type 1, type 2, and gestational), which may allow patients to cut back on their medication and go into effective remission from symptoms of hyperglycaemia.Eating this diet also shows a mediated effect of lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of several cancers, such as pancreatic, lung, breast, prostate, stomach, bladder, head and neck, and bowel. What’s more, the diet has been highly associated with a reduction in obesity and often provides sustained weight loss. The key here is not calorie deficit like most fad diets, but eating the same amount of calories with different macronutrients (healthy unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as opposed to saturated fats and sugars) to achieve a healthier calorific consumption.
The recommendations are as follows, and it helps to access cooking books and recipes to eat ‘in the spirit’ of the mediterranean diet by borrowing elements from the core macro and micronutrients associated with the diet:
Fish: Three servings (each weighing three to four ounces) each week.
One tablespoon or less, but no more than four, of extra-virgin olive oil should be consumed daily.
Fruit: Three servings (half to one cup) of fruit should be consumed each day.
Vegetables: Three or more servings (half a cup cooked, one cup raw) per day are recommended.
Three servings (one serving equals 1/2 cup) of legumes per week.
Nuts: Three servings minimum per week, equivalent to 1/4 cup or 2 teaspoons of nut butter per serving.
Three to six servings a day of whole grains and starchy vegetables (one serving is equal to half a cup of cooked vegetables, one slice of bread, or one ounce of dry cereal).