Mediterranean diet: the best foods and recipe ideas

The Mediterranean Diet, in essence, is a diet that uses food ingredients which have been proven to promote long and healthy lifestyles across many countries.

Research has shown that a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fresh fruit and veg and plenty of olive oil, is really good for your health and can not only help you live longer, but also reduce your risk of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and raised cholesterol. It could also help mothers-to-be protect their unborn babies from allergies and asthma.

The name of the diet (unfortunately) refers more to the origins of the diet rather than the food you’ll be eating – you won’t be tucking into masses of pizza, sob!

But it is full of delicious, light, fresh ingredients that everyone can enjoy, and it’s certainly not a carb-free plan. In fact, recent research published in the journal ‘Molecular Psychiatry’ has linked the Mediterranean diet rich in fish, nuts and vegetables to lowering a person’s risk of depression. So it’s not only good for your body but your mind too.

On the Mediterranean Diet, there are no weird, fad-style food supplements or replacements, making it an easy diet to switch the whole family to.

Mediterranean Diet

Image: Getty

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

According to the NHS,  people who live in countries like Italy and Greece, and eat a typical Mediterranean diet, are healthier and have fewer heart problems than us Northern Europeans. This isn’t so much a diet as a healthy lifestyle choice. You’ve no doubt heard of the long life expectancy of the Greeks and Italians, well it seems that by switching to following their traditional eating habits, you’ll not only feel better, but you could add years on to your life expectancy too!

So, how does it work?

Experts reckon all the fruit and veg our continental cousins consume, along with ‘good’ fats in foods like nuts, fish and olive oil and lowering your intake of dairy products and meat are the key. All the fish and nuts mean it’s also rich in essential fatty acids and antioxidants, a combination that will help improve your cholesterol levels and keep your heart healthy.

Who is the Mediterranean Diet good for?

Almost anyone can follow the Mediterranean diet as it’s low in fat and high in fibre, vitamins and minerals. Because it’s a lifestyle rather than a quick fix, it means you’re likely to keep the pounds off and improve your general health and wellbeing in the long run.

Research done by Institute for Research, Hospitalisation and Health Care has shown you’re never too old to change to a Mediterranean diet. In their study the mortality rate of over 65 year olds who changed to a Mediterranean diet dropped by 25 per cent.

This diet is great for anyone who hates sticking to a typical ‘diet’ where things are banned, restricted, and unsatisfying (that’ll be most of us, then!). This diet isn’t about giving things up, eating less or only eating at certain times of the day, it’s simply about eating good, healthy food which’ll improve your general wellbeing and in turn control your weight.

Mediterranean Diet

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But are there any drawbacks?

Strictly speaking, the diet isn’t designed specifically for weight loss. You might not see drastic results like you would following something like The Lunch Box Diet or 5:2 Diet, but these aren’t diets that are meant for the long term. This diet promotes following a sensible and healthy eating mantra designed to last you for life. And all that healthy eating is bound to have some positive effects on your waistline.

One of the main problems with this diet is that buying all that fresh, mediterranean food can be expensive, and time-consuming to prepare, no matter how delicious it may taste.

What do you eat on the Med Diet?

If you’re going to eat the Mediterranean way, you need to look at both what you’re eating and how you’re eating it. The typical Western diet is high in preservatives, animal fats but low in fruit and vegetables (sound familiar?). The Mediterranean Diet is the full of fruit and veg, so it’s time to stop buying processed foods and make your own pasta sauce using tomatoes, onions, garlic and black olives. Snack on fresh fruit such as melon and apricots.

You should ditch the sunflower oil in favour of olive oil and swap margarine for spreads made from olive oil too.

Eat meat in moderation but lots of fish and seafood. Drink the odd glass of red wine and you’re just about there.

People in Mediterranean countries also take time over their food. The thought of grabbing a sandwich on the go is looked down on and many businesses actually shut up shop to allow for those two hour lunches.

While you may not find that very practical, try to make meals an enjoyable event. Turn the telly off, sit at the table and really enjoy all that fresh food.

Mediterranean Diet

Image: Getty

 

What can you eat on the Mediterranean Diet?

  • fruit
  • veg – and plenty of it!
  • wholemeal grains
  • nuts
  • pulses
  • seeds
  • herbs and spices
  • lean meat
  • fish
  • seafood
  • olive oil
  • red wine

Mediterranean Diet meal plan

Breakfast:

– Natural yoghurt with honey, nuts and dried fruit

Scrambled eggs and fresh tomatoes with olive oil

Bacon and potato frittata

Poached egg and smashed avocado on toast

Lunch:

Broccoli and salmon tagliatelle

– Toasted pitta and bean salad

Tuna pasta with black olives and artichokes

Greek salad with sardines

Grilled cabbage with tahini dressing

– Warm potato salad with smoked mackerel

Dinner:

– Grilled fish, Greek salad with olive oil dressing

Paella Salad

Meatballs with Bucatini pasta

Chicken and bacon pasta bake

Halibut with oven-roasted tomatoes, basil and tapenade

Prawn linguine

Black pasta with cherry tomatoes and prawns

Top tip: A recent study suggested kids who eat a Mediterranean diet are 15 per cent less likely to be overweight. Making home-made pasta and pizza’s with the kids can be a fun activity to get them involved in trying all things Mediterranean.