Why eating a Mediterranean Diet can Help us All

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

The Mediterranean diet isn’t just about what you eat, it’s also about exercising, enjoying food and drink leisurely and communicating with friends. Research has shown that eating a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce bad cholesterol, prevent heart disease, strokes and more. Now we are at home for a time and in some cases with limited supplies, it’s time to give this healthy diet a whirl. With basic staple ingredients including fruit, vegetables, grains and olive oil, it’s easy to make filling, healthy meals for all the family.

Exercise Daily – Even a Little

Walking the dog, jogging with your favourite playlist on or practicing yoga - every form of exercise is a positive step towards maintaining good health. If you live or have lived in a Mediterranean country, you’ll often see people walking along a sun-drenched promenade, playing softball tennis on the beach or hiking in the mountains.

Regular exercise doesn’t just help to reduce blood pressure, fend off chronic inflammation and protect against heart disease and stroke, it can also prevent the onset of diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis. As an additional benefit, it also improves your overall mood and can help to alleviate stress. Even if you can’t get out at present, you could try lifting some weights, participate in an online bootcamp class or even learn how to flamenco or salsa dance.

Get Your Staple Ingredients

While everyone is stockpiling tinned and packet goods, turn your focus to anything organic, or which grows from the ground. These are the staples of the Mediterranean diet. Always keep olive oil in your kitchen, along with grains, pulses, herbs and nuts, plus you can stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables whilst supporting a local grocery store or market. These items are used as base ingredients for most Mediterranean dishes and can be divided into several mealtime recipes. They provide you with all the nutrients you need to maintain a healthy mind and body without compromising on flavour.

For example, a popular snack or breakfast dish in Spain is ‘pan tostada con tomate’ - toasted bread rubbed with garlic, topped with tomatoes, sprinkled with a touch of sea salt and olive oil. It’s simple, quick and filling and can be eaten at any time of day. Another great benefit to the Mediterranean diet is, if you can’t eat gluten or dairy, you can still enjoy the cuisine without making vast changes.

Add Fish & Seafood Twice a Week

Venture to any Spanish chiringuito, waterfront Italian trattoria or Greek taverna and you will discover fish and seafood on almost every menu. Fishing plays an important role in Mediterranean society and adding fish to several meals each week is also good for your health. Fish is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids – good for brain health, joint health and blood pressure. It can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes and also help to alleviate anxiety and depression.

Each week aim to include salmon, trout, sardines or tuna into your diet as they are high in omega 3. Shellfish such as mussels and shrimp also have their own benefits and are good for your heart. Popular, simple dishes to create include tuna salad drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, baked salmon with capers, softened onions and potatoes or linguine with steamed mussels, tomatoes, onions and garlic. All of these dishes have excellent health benefits and cater to most dietary requirements.

Use Very Small Portions of Poultry, Dairy and Eggs

Eggs, dairy and poultry are consumed in moderation in the Mediterranean diet. It’s recognised that small amounts can be beneficial for protein content which helps to maintain cellular and muscular health. Eggs are a good source of protein, containing Vitamins A, B and potassium. They assist with eye health and can be boiled, chopped and added to a delicious tuna niçoise salad.

Chicken, which contains niacin, selenium and Vitamin B6 which helps production of neurotransmitters, can be served Andalusian style with rosemary, dry white wine, olives and garlic. When it comes to cheese, the Mediterranean diet shuns highly processed cheddars and replaces them with healthier white cheeses such as halloumi, goat’s cheese, mozzarella and feta which are lighter and easier to digest. Eaten in moderation, thanks to the calcium content, cheese can prevent dental cavities, some forms of cancer and can increase bone strength.

Drink At Least 8 Glasses of Water a Day

Drinking water is important for everyone. It helps to regulate temperature, is a natural remedy for headaches and transports oxygen, nutrients and vitamins throughout the body. Consuming at least 8 glasses of water per day can help to remove toxins, rehydrate your skin and as it has no calories or sugar, it can also assist you in maintaining weight goals!

In warmer Mediterranean climes such as southern France, Italy, Greece and Spain, citizens recognise the importance of staying hydrated throughout the day. You’ll often see a jug or bottle of water alongside glasses of wine on a dining table. You can also follow this process wherever you are in the world. Fill your own BPA free water bottles and carry them with you to ensure your body remains hydrated and in tip-top condition throughout the day.

Drink Wine in Moderation

Drinking wine in moderation can be good for you, especially if its red wine. We’re not talking about consuming entire bottles in one sitting, simply sipping a glass with an evening meal can actually have many health benefits. The skins of grapes used in red wine production contain polyphenols which can help lower cholesterol and maintain cardiovascular health.

There are several delicious Mediterranean reds to sample including Rioja Gran Reserva – a veritable feast of dark cherries and berries or Sicilian Nero d’Avola, perfect to pair with grilled meat, tuna fish or pasta.

Limited Red Meat and Desserts

The Mediterranean diet focuses primarily on plant-based foods, olive oil and fish, therefore red meats and sugary treats are secondary. That’s not to say they don’t eat them at all. Think charcuterie, chorizo sausage etc. However, it’s limited to once or twice a week.

As the Mediterranean diet concentrates itself around protecting heart health and living longer, eating foods which don’t align with that ethos would be counterproductive. You can still dine on burgers, steak or sausages but keep it to a minimum if you wish to reap the full benefits of this healthy lifestyle diet.

If you visit Spanish, Italian or Greek restaurants, you’ll usually only find a handful of desserts on the menu - crèma Catalana, tiramisu, semolina cake to name a few. Although all delicious, you’re more likely to end a meal with coffee or a glass of wine than a calorie laden dessert, however, you should on occasion definitely treat yourself!

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