The Mediterranean diet is famous for being healthy. After all we long to stay healthy. According to health gurus, maintaining a healthy body and mind depends mostly on what you eat and exercise. HAYATI caught up with Anna Pettit, a registered dietitian and nutritionist who shared insights on the Mediterranean Diet, and how you can use it to your advantage.
What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet is an eating plan based on an entire dietary pattern, not particular foods and nutrients. The key components of the diet consist of eating high amount of unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains; the use of low fat dairy, fish and seafood; and the high use of healthy fats from vegetable oils.
Where did it originate from?
The Mediterranean diet has evolved over the last 5000 years from traditional diet in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, including France, Italy, Spain, Morocco and Greece. The word ‘Mediterranean’ refers to the origins of the diet, rather than needing to eat specific Greek or Italian foods. Historically it was shaped by the regional environment, culture, and religious practices. Nowadays it continues to be a way of living and with more and more people adopting the healthy holistic approach of the diet as it respects the environment and focuses on seasonal wholesome foods and local produce.
Which are the major benefits of this diet?
The Mediterranean diet has been extensively researched. The studies indicated that people whose diets focused on fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, and fish had lower cardiovascular diseases than those who did not. Other health benefits linked to the Mediterranean diet include increased life expectancy, better weight control, enhanced brain function, fertility and vision; relief of symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis, lower risks of some cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Diabetes; and lower levels of blood pressure and LDL(bad) cholesterol.
How can one get started on the diet?
Principles of the Mediterranean diet can be implemented in any country and on any budget. You can start by incorporating wholesome, unprocessed, nutrient- rich way of eating and increased physical activity into your lifestyle at your own pace. And when it comes to preparing your Mediterranean meals, it is anything but complicated. This is because it is based on preparing fresh foods such as grains, vegetables, legumes, and fish with some olive oil, lemon, herbs, and spices for flavour. Vegetables are either sautéed with olive oil and garlic or used fresh in salads. Legumes and grains are steamed with herbs and spices, fish is slow cooked or grilled, which are both healthy cooking methods with minimal amount of oil required. Although traditionally the diet was based on fresh fruits and vegetables, frozen can be used instead, especially if you are on a budget. And if you are buying tinned and canned produce, always choose the ones with no added sugar or salt.
How can the diet help with weight loss?
The principles of Mediterranean diet can be successfully applied in weight loss. Swapping white, refined grains and breads for high fibre wholegrain varieties and basing your meals on quality lean protein will leave you feeling fuller for longer and increase your metabolism. Downsizing your portions will naturally reduce the amount of calories in your daily diet making it easier to shift stubborn weight and initiate loss and most importantly keep it off in the long term.
When seeing a client for weight loss, I also reinforce the importance of regular physical activity, whether its long walks, taking the stairs where possible, jogging, cycling or swimming. The aim is at least 30 minutes daily activity and at least an hour a day when actively trying to lose weight. This is not only essential to keep body regulatory mechanisms in check as they tend to get a bit sluggish but also to burn excess calories and fat. In conjunction with the healthy Mediterranean diet, achieving your goal weight is more feasible.