Reasons to love the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet (MD) refers to the diet of south European countries, most commonly Italian, Greek, and Spanish. Unfortunately, nowadays the Mediterraneans do not always follow the healthy version of it, however, its original version (as in the 1940s) has been shown to be one of the healthiest and most balanced diets to follow, as well as delicious!

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The most original version of the MD was in Crete (a southern Greek island), before the 1960s, when communication with other regions was not easy, so Cretans had to breed their own animals (mainly goat and sheep) and source their own fruit, vegetables and seeds. Whole grains were not easy to process and hence diets were very low in sugar.

The Mediterranean diet emphasises the use of fresh, organic, local and seasonal foods, while it also underlines the importance of cooking from scratch and avoiding anything processed.

Unfortunately, the impact of modernisation and westernisation (in terms of ‘advances’ in food processing and refining methods) has led to the modification of the original Mediterranean diet, over the years. Regardless, by understanding and adopting the key principles of the Mediterranean diet (whilst incorporating a more active and less stressful lifestyle), one can still benefit from adopting this effective dietary regime.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet emphasises the use of fresh, organic, local and seasonal foods, while it also underlines the importance of cooking from scratch and avoiding anything processed. Foods are locally sourced and organic, to reduce exposure of the individual to environmental and agricultural toxins.

A MD refers to a diet with plenty of fresh, brightly-coloured vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, including beans and lentils, grass-fed organic lean meat (chicken, sheep, goat, rabbit etc) and their products eggs and dairy (in moderation), wild-caught (oily) fish, nuts, seeds and healthy oils, such as olive oil and flax oil, plenty of herbs, spices and red wine in moderation!

The MD avoids processed and refined foods, ready meals, as well as sugar and hydrogenated fats. Honey is the main sweetener used. Red meat is used in moderation and leaner cuts are favoured. The main sources of protein are fish and legumes.

Fresh salad with salmonBenefits of a Mediterranean diet 

  • Key aspect: anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is strongly linked to autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease, as well as cardiovascular disease.
  • Being very rich in fresh vegetables and fruits, the MD is nutrient-dense (vitamins, minerals), high in fibre and antioxidants (phytochemicals).
  • The MD is rich in omega 3 (oily fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, grass-fed meat, organic eggs and dark green leafy vegetables).
  • Foods are low-glycemic, balancing blood sugar and fat levels. In addition, the MD boosts the 'good' cholesterol (HDL) and lowers high homocysteine levels.
  • The MD has powerful anti-ageing properties, including prevention of cognitive decline, deterioration of health due to ageing, protection of skin from oxidative damage through the years and prevention of bone loss. The MD promotes longevity.
  • A well-balanced Mediterranean diet improves the microbial balance in the gut, which is responsible for overall health, including weight, gut health, brain function and mood.

Specific conditions

The MD is unarguably one of the best diets for disease prevention and optimal health. It has been used with great success in a plethora of conditions, including:

  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • psoriasis
  • hypercholesterolemia
  • hypertension
  • cardiovascular disease
  • Alzheimer's and Parkinson's,
  • depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome and infertility 
  • osteoporosis
  • liver disease
  • diabesity (diabetes and obesity)
  • gallstones
  • fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome
  • anaemia
  • cancer (breast, colon and prostate)

Mothers that adopt a MD while pregnant and breastfeeding are less likely to have children with allergies and asthma.

Research has shown that an MD diet outperforms statins for heart health.

For diabetes and cardiovascular health, a low-carbohydrate Mediterranean diet has been linked with the best outcomes. A high-fat MD can protect against serious diseases, including heart health and brain disorders. If using mainly olive oil as a fat source, there is no restriction on fat in the MD.

A common southern Mediterranean practice includes adding acidic dressings, such as lemon juice and vinegar, to iron-rich foods to improve iron absorption (anaemia).

NB. People with autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, or even migraines, may be sensitive to potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, emphasised in the Mediterranean diet and should better avoid them.

Mediterranean superfoods

  1. Mastic gum – can calm stomach pain and peptic ulcers.
  2. Oily fish – such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel and salmon are high in anti-inflammatory omega 3s.
  3. Red wine and grapes – rich in cancer-fighting and heart-strengthening polyphenols.
  4. Extra virgin olive oil and olives – high in heart-friendly monounsaturated acids (omega 9).
  5. Tomatoes – high in lycopene; protect from prostate cancer (especially cooked).
  6. Honey – nutrient-rich, immune-boosting.
  7. Garlic – Antiviral and antibacterial.
  8. Lentils/legumes – high in folate, fibre and iron.
  9. Avocado – anti-inflammatory fats and skin-friendly vitamin E.
  10. Herbs and spices – 'multivitamins.'

While many diets have been appeared in the news in the last years, including 'diet fads', the Mediterranean diet remains one of the healthiest and most balanced diets to follow, be it for optimal health, disease prevention or battling against a specific condition.

Salad bowlMediterranean zucchini salad

This recipe is adapted from The Roasted Root.

Ingredients

  • 4 small /medium or 2 large zucchini
  • 1 cup organic cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 can artichoke hearts in water, squeezed dry and quartered
  • 1/2 cup pitted and halved Kalamata olives
  • 3 tsp fresh lemon juice 
  • Zest of 1 organic lemon
  • 3 tsp garlic oil
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp fresh minced parsley
  • 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled (aged 30 days, optional)

Method

  1. Wash the zucchini and peel if desired. Using a spiraliser, process the zucchini into noodles and add to a large bowl.
  2. Add the tomatoes, artichoke hearts and olives to the bowl.
  3. In a separate small bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, juice, oil and vinegar.
  4. Pour the lemon dressing over the salad and mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Crumble the feta and parsley on top to serve.

You can add chicken for an extra protein boost if desired.

References

Babio N, e. (2018). Mediterranean diet and metabolic syndrome: the evidence. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19689829 [Accessed 16 Feb. 2018].

LaMotte, S. (2018). Mediterranean style diet may prevent dementia. [online] CNN. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2017/07/17/health/mediterranean-style-diet-prevents-dementia/index.html [Accessed 16 Feb. 2018].

Marilyn Glenville. (2018). Reducing the risk of Cancer with dietary changes. [online] Available at: https://www.marilynglenville.com/reducing-the-risk-of-breast-cancer/ [Accessed 16 Feb. 2018].

Moore K, e. (2018). Diet, nutrition and the ageing brain: current evidence and new directions. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29316987 [Accessed 16 Feb. 2018].

Naturalnewsonline.naturalnewsforwomen.com. (2018). Natural News for Women » Blog Archive » In the News: A Mediterranean diet could prevent asthma in children. [online] Available at: http://naturalnewsonline.naturalnewsforwomen.com/index.php/2007/06/01/in-the-news-a-mediterranean-diet-could-prevent-asthma-in-children/ [Accessed 16 Feb. 2018].

Nhs.uk. (2018). What is a Mediterranean diet? - NHS Choices. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/what-is-a-Mediterranean-diet.aspx [Accessed 16 Feb. 2018].

Widmer, R., Flammer, A., Lerman, L. and Lerman, A. (2018). The Mediterranean Diet, its Components, and Cardiovascular Disease.

Willett, W., Sacks, F., Trichopoulou, A., Drescher, G., Ferro-Luzzi, A., Helsing, E. and Trichopoulos, D. (2018). Mediterranean diet pyramid: a cultural model for healthy eating.

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Olianna Gourli

Olianna Gourli is a qualified naturopath and nutritional therapist, with a background in science and research (BSc Hons., mBANT, rCNHC). She has great expertise in gastrointestinal issues, such as IBS, hormonal imbalances and women's health, stress and chronic fatigue. She sees clients in her clinics in London, Athens and through Skype.… Read more

Written by Olianna Gourli

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