What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet describes the traditional eating patterns of people from countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea such as Crete, Greece Italy and Spain. The eating pattern is usually based on high consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, pulses (e.g. peas, beans and lentils), whole grains, olive oil, moderate intake of fish and poultry and moderate intake of red wine with meals.
In addition to this, the diet is generally characterised by small intakes of red meat and low quantities of processed meat, as well as low intake of foods that are high in saturated fat, salt, sugars.
The Mediterranean diet is not a ‘prescriptive’ diet but more of a style of eating and living.Why such the fuss about eating
The Mediterranean diet has gained a lot of attention over the years based on research showing its potential role in reducing the risk of some health issues, particularly cardiovascular disease (CVD). There is evidence that shows that having a Mediterranean diet is cardioprotective as it can reduce low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and triglyceride levels and increased high-low lipoproteins (HDL) levels.
There is some evidence to suggest that it can reduce the risk of some cancers, dementia and type 2 diabetes. Though, more research is required to make it conclusive as other confounding factors such as social and lifestyle factors (like physical activity levels) as well as existing medical conditions and genetic predispositions can contribute to the increased or reduced risk of these conditions.
Having said this, eating a variety of foods that consists of the Mediterranean diet contains vitamins, minerals, fibre, omega 3 fatty acids, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat that can have beneficial effects to overall physical and mental health.
There have been some adaptations of the Mediterranean diet like the Pioppi diet. The Pioppi diet claims to promote the principles of the Mediterranean diet for weight loss and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. It encourages eating plenty of vegetables, nuts, legumes and fish just like the Mediterranean diet, but it discourages the consumption of red meat, starchy carbohydrates and sweet treats.
The Mediterranean diet approach reflects the UK’s healthy eating guidelines which are summarised in the form of the Eatwell Guide, whereas, advice from the Pioppi diet to restrict starchy carbohydrates like bread, pasta and rice is inconsistent with the Eatwell Guide. It is also not consistent with the Mediterranean dietary habits, which usually includes having starchy carbohydrates (mostly wholegrains) at every meal.
Is the Mediterranean diet a healthy choice?
The Mediterranean diet is not a ‘prescriptive’ diet but more of a style of eating and living. The Mediterranean diet goes beyond just focusing on food to consume more or reduce for health reasons. It also focuses on the social aspect of eating and encourages you to enjoy your meals with others and resting after meals. Additionally, the Mediterranean lifestyle encourages participation in leisure activities, including physical activities and good sleep quality.
The Mediterranean diet is very similar to the UK government’s healthy eating advice. Making your diet more Mediterranean style by regularly eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, including fish in your diet (with at least one portion of oily fish like salmon a week), eating less red meat, choosing products made from vegetable and plant oils like olive oil, eating plenty of wholegrains and pulses can be a way to ensure you are achieving a well-balanced and healthy diet throughout the week.
Following a Mediterranean diet is one style of healthy eating, but it is not the only one. There are other ways people can adopt healthy eating principles as outlined in the Eatwell Guide.
Furthermore, there are some people who may not be able to eat some foods included in the Mediterranean diet such as fish and nuts (due to allergies) and so, it is important that people find a healthy eating pattern that works well for them, that they can enjoy and will meet their individual nutritional and health needs.
It is also worth mentioning that though red wine is typically consumed in moderation in the Mediterranean diet. Individuals should still be mindful of their alcohol intakes as it is advised that adults should drink no more than 14 units a week and consider having at least 2-3 alcohol-free days during the week.
Also not save up all their units and drink them all in one go on the days they do drink alcohol!