It is based on the traditional dietary patterns of Greece, southern Italy, Spain and Morocco. The diet is largely plant based. It includes high consumption of olive oil, legumes, nuts, seeds, unrefined cereals, vegetables, herbs and fruits. It has moderate to high consumption of fish and seafood, moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly cheese, yogurt and eggs), and low consumption of meat, meat products and sweets. It is basically a peasant’s diet.
Emphasis is on having a wide variety of seasonally fresh produce which eliminates a host of nasty chemicals and additives common in modern processed foods. It includes delicious vegetables such as artichokes, chicory, leeks and okra, stone fruits, figs and melons, abalone, octopus, sardines and mackerel as well as a glass or two of red wine. This provides ample vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber which contribute to good health. It is not so much a diet as a way of life. Meals should be social events eaten at a leisurely pace in good company with conversation and laughter. Physical activity in the form of labor or exercise is also part of the Mediterranean lifestyle.
Olive oil is 100% fat. 1 tablespoon has 119 calories. Extra virgin olive oil contains about 14% saturated fat, 73% monounsaturated fat, 11% polyunsaturated fat. The balance is omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. It is also a good source of Vitamins E and K.
By comparison butter is about 81% fat. 1 tablespoon has 102 calories. Butter contains about 51% saturated fat, 21% monounsaturated fat, 3% polyunsaturated fat and 3.3% trans fat. It also has 1% protein and is a good source of Vitamins A. The balance is water.
Mainstream nutrition considers the Mediterranean Diet a paradox because it is ‘high’ in fat. Total fat content of the Mediterranean Diet is 25 to 35% of calories (which is the traditionally accepted range). Saturated fat is around 8% of calories and yet people who eat this diet have far lower rates of cardiovascular disease than those who adhere to either a Western or low fat diet.
Epidemiological studies correlate high consumption of olive oil with significant reduction in chronic disease, and in particular a lowering of heart disease. Antioxidants in olive oil improve cholesterol regulation, have anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive effects.
Additionally the Mediterranean diet is high in another apparent no-no – salt. Foods such as olives, salt-cured cheeses, anchovies, capers, and salted fish roe all contain high levels of salt and yet this diet appears to be good for you.
A number of studies show the Mediterranean Diet to have beneficial health effects and decreased mortality. Those who adhere to the Mediterranean Diet compared to those on a low fat diet have a 50% lowering of early death rates and 30% lower heart disease and yet the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) promotes a virtually fat-free diet.
Further, people who predominantly adhere to the Mediterranean Diet have an 83% relative reduction in the risk of developing diabetes, 49% reduction in stoke risk, it wards off breast, bowel and prostate cancer, there is an overall 9% reduction in cancer mortality, 13% reduction in both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
Not all Mediterranean cuisines deliver the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, for instance those which use lard, butter and cream for cooking and reserve olive oil for dressing salads and cooking vegetables.
If you want to reap the health-giving benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, here’s how:
Have lashings of olive oil – about 50 – 60ml per day taken on wholemeal bread, cook with it (on moderate heat – up to 200°C or 400°F in the oven or level 6 on the stove) and in salads
Maximize your intake of a wide variety of vegetables, peas and beans (legumes), nuts, seeds and herbs
Eat wholegrain cereals such as bread, brown rice, pasta, couscous and oats daily
Eat fish and seafood 4 to 5 times per week
Eat poultry 1 to 2 times per week
Eat plain Greek style yoghurt 3 to 4 times per week
Eat cheese 3 to 4 times per week
Eat up to 5 eggs per week
Limit red meat to 1 time per week
Limit sweets to 1 time per week – have dried fruit, nuts, seeds and yoghurt in place of cookies, cakes
Limit milk – it is for babies and small children. If you must have it only take full cream milk. Skim or low fat milk has added sugar
Take water as your main beverage
Try slow cooked bean stews, roasted spiced vegetables, throw some chopped walnuts in a mackerel, arugula and pear salad.
For more ideas see our delicious Mediterranean Diet Recipes.
Very best health to you from Skinny-World!