The Palate of the Mediterranean Sea
A comprehensive look at the wholesome Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean Sea is surrounded by 22 magnificent countries. Home to about 480 million people across three continents (Africa, Asia and Europe), let’s talk about how they eat!
The generic term for their traditional eating habit is the “Mediterranean diet”. Its nuanced cultures, ethnicities, agricultural productions and more have blessed us with varying versions of the diet. As such, it has numerous health benefits with a fun twist.
Generally, there are no strict rules or regulations for the diet, nevertheless, two things must be made clear. This diet says:
- YES to fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and heart-healthy fats.
- NO to processed foods, added sugar, and refined grain.
Wondering about alcohol?
Mediterranean natives include wine in moderation as wine can reduce the risk of heart disease and more. As mentioned, the diverse geographical locations practice differing patterns of the diet. So a loose guide would be to prioritise minimally processed, plant-based foods. Fish and poultry are more commonly eaten than red meat and fruits are desired desserts instead of sweets.
THE HEALTH ASPECT
There must be a reason why the Mediterranean is known for its healthy population. How do plant-based foods aid our bodies and minds? Here are not one or two, but seven reasons for the robustness of this diet.
#1 Promotes heart health
One research studied the effects of the Mediterranean diet and a low-fat diet and its results showed that the Mediterranean diet can slow down the buildup of plaques in the arteries. Heart disease like atherosclerosis can occur when plaque collects, thickens, hardens and blocks blood flow in the arteries of the heart. Other cardiovascular issues like stroke, heart attack, and death can be dealt with in the Mediterranean way.
#2 Supports healthy blood sugar levels
Studies also show the Mediterranean diet stabilises levels of diastolic and systolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in our arteries when our heart beats while diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure in our arteries when our heart rests between beats. It can also decrease insulin resistance, a condition that impairs the body’s ability to use insulin to regulate blood sugar levels effectively.
#3 Protects brain function
A diet that focuses on nuts and legumes is sure to favour sturdy brain health. The Mediterranean diet has proved to battle cognitive decline and improve memory, attention, and processing speed in the elderly. Thus, reducing the risks of developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
#4 Relieving depression
Consuming more raw fruit and veggies through this diet has displayed fewer symptoms of depression. The Mediterranean eating style can lift moods and ensure stronger mental health. So, if you wish for a gleeful morning, munch on a handful of chia seeds and slurp up some yoghurt!
#5 Improving sleep quality
Researchers have explored the wonderful effects of this diet on our sleep too. Older adults have seen improvement in their sleep quality as opposed to younger people.
#6 Help with weight loss
The Mediterranean diet wasn’t meant to be a weight loss plan. It just happens to be one of the renowned healthy diets. Research groups have shown that adhering to the diet can help lose weight. Nonetheless, it’s important to understand that weight loss is subjective and must be accompanied by exercise and lifestyle changes.
#7 Decreased risks of cancers
The Mediterranean diet has shown positive results when it comes to lowering the chances of falling prey to breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer and some head and neck cancers. However, more studies are underway in testing and proving this theory.
HOW TO FOLLOW IT
Now that we have established that a Mediterranean diet is no doubt one of the healthiest ways to eat, let’s dive into stirring up some dishes to fill the table and our stomachs!
Ideally, your Mediterranean-style fridge should look like this:
- Enjoy: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, herbs, spices, fish, seafood, and extra virgin olive oil.
- Eat in moderation: Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yoghurt.
- Eat rarely: Red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils, and other highly processed foods.
Avoid stocking up your food stash with these:
Added sugar: Added sugar is found in many foods but is especially high in soda, candies, ice cream, table sugar, syrup, and baked goods.
- Refined grains: White bread, pasta, tortillas, chips, crackers.
- Trans fats: Found in margarine, fried foods, and other processed foods.
- Refined oils: Soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, grapeseed oil.
- Processed meat: Processed sausages, hot dogs, deli meats, beef jerky.
- Highly processed foods: Fast food, convenience meals, microwave popcorn, granola bars.
Planning on grocery shopping? Lookout for these items:
Vegetables: Carrots, onions, broccoli, spinach, kale, garlic, zucchini, mushrooms.
Frozen veggies: Peas, carrots, broccoli, mixed vegetables.
Tubers: Potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams.
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, melons, peaches, pears, strawberries, blueberries.
Grains: Whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, quinoa, brown rice, oats.
Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans.
Nuts: Almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, macadamia nuts. Seeds: Sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds.
Eating healthy shouldn’t be boring and the Mediterreaneans are taking us down that fun path.
- Condiments: Sea salt, pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, oregano.
- Seafood: Salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout, shrimp, mussels.
- Dairy products: Greek yoghurt, yoghurt, milk.
- Poultry: Chicken, duck, turkey.
- Eggs: Chicken, quail, and duck eggs.
- Healthy fats: Extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, avocado oil.
Look no further for a week’s menu:
Breakfast: Greek yogurt with strawberries and chia seeds
Lunch: A whole grain sandwich with hummus and vegetables
Dinner: A tuna salad with greens and olive oil, as well as a fruit salad
Breakfast: Oatmeal with blueberries
Lunch: Caprese zucchini noodles with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar
Dinner: A salad with tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, farro, grilled chicken, and feta cheese
Breakfast: An omelette with mushrooms, tomatoes, and onions
Lunch: A whole grain sandwich with cheese and fresh vegetables
Dinner: Mediterranean lasagna
Breakfast: Yoghurt with sliced fruit and nuts
Lunch: A quinoa salad with chickpeas
Dinner: Broiled salmon with brown rice and vegetables
Breakfast: Eggs and sautéed vegetables with whole wheat toast
Lunch: Stuffed zucchini boats with pesto, turkey sausage, tomatoes, bell peppers, and cheese
Dinner: Grilled lamb with salad and baked potato
Breakfast: Oatmeal with raisins, nuts, and apple slices
Lunch: A whole grain sandwich with vegetables
Dinner: Mediterranean pizza made with whole wheat pita bread and topped with cheese, vegetables, and olives
Breakfast: An omelette with veggies and olives
Lunch: Falafel bowl with feta, onions, tomatoes, hummus, and rice
Dinner: Grilled chicken with vegetables, sweet potato fries, and fresh fruit
Eating healthy shouldn’t be boring and the Mediterreaneans are taking us down that fun path. Talk to your dietitian about incorporating these foods for a satisfying dietary plan. Bon appétit!
Sources: Mayo Clinic, Healthline, Medical News Today, Everyday Health, Johns Hopkins Hospital, American Heart Association