Have you ever heard of a diet that promotes drinking wine and eating bread?
Well, neither have I. But don’t give up hope just yet! The Mediterranean diet may hold the solution for you. Despite its name, the Mediterranean diet is not so much a prescriptive diet but a lifestyle, or pattern of healthy eating. Whilst typical diets give you quick fixes and aren’t sustainable, the Mediterranean diet is a long-term approach to eating which has been shown to produce astounding long-term health benefits as well. So no, there’s no typical diet that permits drinking wine and eating bread, but this Mediterranean lifestyle sure does!
Let’s take a step back and find out what this lifestyle involves. The Mediterranean diet was coined in the 1950s by Ancel Keys, and is based on his observation of the foods typically eaten and the culinary activities employed by people in the Mediterranean region at that time. Keys noticed a trend in that these people lived longer and had a lower prevalence of chronic disease compared with those living in the Western world. He thought they must be doing something right! And so the Mediterranean diet was born.
Thinking of a pyramid is a helpful way to understanding how the Mediterranean diet works: the things that should occur the most frequently are represented at the base, and things that should occur infrequently are at the top. Starting at the bottom of the pyramid, lifestyle elements such as regular exercise and enjoying meals with company should be done every day. You may be thinking the latter is a strange thing to include in a diet, but remember that the Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle and so encompasses a more holistic approach to health. And there’s good reason to eat with others! Eating with company helps slow down your eating and gives hunger-suppressing hormones time to kick in (they need around 20 minutes) to overall, prevent you overeating.
When considering the foods consumed, the Mediterranean diet has a strong foundation in plant-based foods and is characterised by the daily consumption of fruits and vegetables, grains (this is for all you bread-loving people), legumes, nuts and seeds. Olive oil is also included here and is the predominant source of fat in this diet. Moving up to the next rung of the pyramid are foods that should be eaten often, including seafood and fish. Poultry and dairy products are consumed weekly in moderate amounts whilst red meat, processed meat and sweets are at the top of the pyramid and should be limited to small amounts and eaten infrequently. And onto the part you’ve all been waiting for: a moderate intake of red wine.
The Mediterranean diet has long been associated with protective effects against heart disease but research shows it also may play a role in preventing obesity, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, strokes, high blood pressure and even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Wow!
So what exactly is it about the Mediterranean diet that makes it so good for us? Everything - literally! It comes down to synergy: the combination of all of the dietary components working together and over time to produce a favourable effect on health. This is the essence of the Mediterranean diet. This means that you can’t just start adding olive oil by itself to your diet, but you need to include other foods that are in line with the Mediterranean diet to see the beneficial results.
OK, say you’re interested in trying this Mediterranean diet to reap these health rewards. As I mentioned before, the Mediterranean diet is considered a pattern of healthy eating rather than a specific diet. This means that there is no ‘right’ way to do it. It’s just whichever way it works best for you. Does that not sound like the best diet ever? Here are some easy tips to get you started:
Try to include vegetables at every meal (Yes, even for breakfast - a veggie omelette with spinach, tomato, capsicum and mushroom sounds perfect!)
Use olive oil as the main added fat: use in cooking instead of butter or drizzled on salads/vegetables as a dressing
Great snacks to include everyday are fruit and unsalted nuts whilst yogurt and cheese on crackers are a perfect choice a couple of times per week
Limit red and processed meats; instead, choose poultry and fish
Choose wholegrain breads, cereals and pasta for meals
Keep sweets for special occasions and not as everyday food
Drink red wine in moderation and always with meals: a moderate amount is 1 standard drink (about 100mls) per day
Plan to eat your meals with family or friends, and
Try to get in at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day
So, why do you really need to know about the Mediterranean diet? Because it’s a healthy, sustainable and delicious diet with proven benefits in various areas of health and well-being that can prolong your life and prevent chronic disease! So why not start now and pour yourself a glass of red wine?