An Introduction to the Mediterranean Diet

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The word 'diet' comes from the Greek word diaita and the Latin diaeta, which both mean 'way of life'. Most people in the West, however, think of a diet as a way to lose weight. This is where we go wrong.

Our diet should be our way of life – eating pure, whole foods and exercising to look after our bodies, not rigidly counting calories and restricting our food intake. The Mediterranean Diet is by no means a 'diet' in the 'starve yourself to lose weight' way. It's simply the food and drink consumed by people who live in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy and Greece.

 A map of the Med and the countries bordering it
 
In the latter part of the twentieth century, scientists discovered that, on average, people in Mediterranean countries lived longer and more disease-free lives than those in the West. They were at less risk of conditions such as heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and dementia. A major reason for this turned out to be their diet. What's more, studies have shown that people who switch from a Western to a Mediterranean diet also enjoy these health benefits. So what are they eating, exactly?

The Mediterranean Diet is high in essential fats, fruit, vegetables, grains and lean protein and low in saturated fats, red meat, processed foods and preservatives. Therefore, switching to a Mediterranean diet is a good idea if you want to live a long, healthy life. Here's how to do it.

1. Eat a range of fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables – at least five portions a day to receive as many nutrients as possible.

2. Stock up on wholegrain cereals, beans, lentils and grains like brown rice.

3. Limit your intake of red meat and instead go for oily fish (eg salmon and mackerel), seafood and lean white meat such as chicken and turkey breast.

4. Use monounsaturated fats in place of butter and lard. Olive oil is popular in the Med. Extra virgin is the least refined type of olive oil and so offers the most health benefits.

5. Cut out fast food and microwave meals. Try only to eat un-processed, home cooked dishes and snack on dried fruit and nuts rather than cakes and chocolate.

6. Use herbs such as oregano, basil and thyme to flavour your meals instead of salt.

7. Make sure you drink plenty of water.

It's also important to reduce stress in your life. In Western culture, many of us live in polluted cities, work long hours in stuffy offices and rely on our cars to get us everywhere. Try to extract yourself from this environment as much as possible. Start to walk places more often, spend more time in nature and generally just slow down and enjoy life instead of rushing through it. Easier said than done, I know, but you will thank me in the long run!

A simple food pyramid to help you understand the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet is an ideal diet (way of life) to follow if you want to be fit and healthy. There are no restrictions – everything is eaten in moderation – and no complicated recipes to master. Just wholesome, filling, delicious foods to eat which will make you feel better and live longer - and who wouldn't want that?

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