The traditional diet of the peoples of the Mediterranean has been shown to be the healthiest diet in the World. Scientific study after scientific study has demonstrated that people who eat such foods in the proportion outlined in the “Mediterranean Diet Pyramid” (illustration 1) not only live longer, but have significantly lower risk of heart disease and many cancers, including bowel, prostate and breast cancer. See appendix 1 for comparison death rates Western Europe and Mediterranean countries.
“...Mediterranean diet cuts death rate by 50%...”
“...The Mediterranean diet is positively associated with healthy longevity...”
“...The Mediterranean peoples have reduced risks of bowel, breast and prostate cancer, as well as heart disease, stroke and diabetes...”
“...The Mediterranean Diet appears to significantly reduce the risk of suffering from dementia including Alzheimers disease, depression, high blood pressure, arthritis and asthma...”
The diet is “high protection / low damage”, essentially meaning that there are relatively small quantities of the undesirable saturated fats, but high amounts of cancer beating, heart protecting fruits, vegetables, antioxidants, olive oil and fish oils.
Much of the advice on healthy eating is negative and restrictive. Many “diets” are focused exclusively on weight loss and make meal times a miserable experience. There are even “fad diets” that are potentially dangerous to long term health and expose people to increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
The beauty of the ancient diet of the Mediterranean is that it provides a wonderfully healthy, tasty and complete diet that is centred around fresh, non processed, readily available natural produce. It is “ready made”, balanced and nutrient rich. Low in saturated fats, low in salt, and with a low glycaemic index, there is evidence that it is a healthier and more successful weight controlling lifestyle than the “low fat, high carbohydrate” much promoted in the last few years. Furthermore, people are more likely to persevere and make long term changes when they are delighting in a wide variety of enjoyable foods.
We feel how we eat; there is increasing evidence that our diet can affect our mood and that the Mediterranean Diet may help to maintain a healthy mind. Not only does the Mediterranean Diet seem to significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimers Disease and other forms of dementia, but studies also support the notion that a Mediterranean style diet can protect us from depression. We intuitively know that an unhealthy lifestyle full of saturated fat and processed foods reduces our sense of wellbeing, and now scientific research has illustrated very elegantly that the dietary advice contained in this book can reduce the risk of depression by as much as thirty percent. It is thought that the low glycaemic index, high vitamin and antioxidant Mediterranean Diet may increase serotonin levels in our brains. Olive oil, fruit, vegetables and nuts are all likely to contribute to this effect.
In A Nutshell:
Lots of fresh beautiful fruit
Lots of luscious and varied vegetables
Lots of delicious legumes, beans and high grain/fibre cereal products
Lots of fine extravirgin olive oil (positively good for you monounsaturated fat). All frying in olive oil.
Plenty of fresh oily fish (positively good for you omega 3 fats)
Plenty of crunchy natural nuts and seeds (positively good for you omega 3 fats)
Moderate amounts of low fat dairy products for protein strength
Moderate amounts of wonderful wine, generally with a meal.
Moderate amounts of white meat.
Low consumption of red meat. But hey let’s really enjoy the occasional grass fed, organic fillet steak!
Low consumption of potatoes, white bread, and salt.
Low consumption of biscuits, cakes, margarines and other baked products high in transfatty acids (positively BAD for you)
Plan your weekly shop and meal plans around the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. For example, a week may be planned around 2 fish dishes, 2 poultry, 2 vegetarian based and a single meal with red meat. Clearly, it is sensible to buy low fat red meat, and to eat modest servings eg 60g per person. Most people can increase their intake of vegetables and fruit if portions of meat are reduced.
By applying these general principles it is easy to adopt a more balanced and healthy proportional intake of food and construct a planned weekly menu with simple or sophisticated recipes to achieve this.
© 2009 Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trust
The Mediterranean Diet pyramid concept illustrated above was conceived by nutritionists and epidemiologists from the World Health Organisation and Harvard’s School of Public Health. The aim was to pictorially represent the nutritional balance in the diet of the areas in the Mediterranean with the lowest recorded rates of chronic disease and the highest adult life expectancy.
The Mediterranean Diet is about day to day simple patterns of eating and ingredients rather than complex cuisine or time consuming recipes, unless of course there is special occasion to celebrate.
Referring to the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, a visit to the supermarket can ensure stocks of basic ingredients are easily accessible to create a wonderful food experience. Brown rice, pasta, couscous, other whole grains and potatoes can form the low GI carbohydrate which combines with vegetables or beans and perhaps fish, lean white or red meat to create a balanced , nutritious and complete meal.
Salads are a beautiful accompaniment to fish and meat, in particular combining the colours of a summer garden at any time of year.
Herbs and spices are readily available in packets, dried or fresh to add flavour and variety to meals. They can even be purchased in convenient plastic tubes. Alternatively potted herbs around the kitchen or patio, replaced from time to time, allows fresh leaves to be always available.
The lowly potato, so common in Western European diets can be given the “Positively Good for You” Mediterranean treatment. Try baked potatoes seared with fresh rosemary and a little garlic, or part boiled and sliced potatoes roasted until crisp with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika. Why not pour a little passata over the roasting vegetables and throw some basil leaves on at the time of serving. And what about “mash with a dash” – mash potato with a dash of olive oil and crushed garlic or chilli.
Similarly brown rice is wholesome simply boiled but can add flavour and goodness to a meal with fried or raw red or spring onion and herbs sprinkled on top. Perhaps fry the onion in a little ginger from a bottle or tube.
At least once try the “super- salad”, loaded with antioxidants and colour, the only challenge will be finding a bowl big enough. This can be served with grilled lean meat or fish and olive oil roasted potatoes.
Include; lettuce, tomatoes, pitted olives, mixed nuts, red onion, beetroot, radish, mixed peppers, sun dried tomatoes, finely chopped carrots, fresh bay leaves, cucumber, red grapes, seeds and a sprinkle of grated cheese or feta. Perhaps add a little avocado...
To accompany a salad, to drizzle onto vegetables or to marinate or glaze grilled roast meat and fish, simply mix up a special olive oil dressing. Again the combination of flavours from simple and positively good for you ingredients is almost endless.
From a basic mix of extra virgin olive oil with balsamic vinegar or walnut oil, the scope for dressings is wide and can include many ingredients which combine healthy antioxidants with fabulous flavours. A dressing might include olive oil, perhaps combined with some flax oil and proportions to taste of lemon juice, sundried tomato paste, honey, chopped garlic and herbs. Some chopped chilli or mustard will add spice and white wine or balsamic vinegar can enhance the rich “peppery” experience.
If used as a glaze, a little yoghurt can be placed lightly on top of the meat.
The spice route passed through the Mediterranean and the spice markets of Istanbul combined traditional herbs of the Mediterranean with more exotic flavours from India and the Far East. Stir frying vegetables with seafood or meats in olive oil with spices such as, chilli, turmeric, ginger and soy sauce is a great way to include such produce.