Its no surprise that the Mediterranean diet has gained such popularity over recent years. A long with mounting evidence of the health benefits, longevity and weight loss – the diet is actually very easy to follow and unlike most fad diets – really enjoyable for anyone who enjoys their food (and wine). The diet shows how an emphasis on seasonal wholesome produce, fish, whole grains, and healthy oils and fats helps achieve weight loss, reduces heart disease, helps treat diabetes – and even has remarkable benefits in treating depression and dementia. So what is the mediterranean diet? and what foods should you be eating as part of it?
The main foods that form the basis of the Mediterranean diet
- Olive oil is one of the healthiest sources of fat rich in monounsaturated fatty acids which can improve HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels. Olive oil contains a range of polyphenols and antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation in the gut (an early symptom of poor gut health) and throughout the body as well as both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
“Extra-virgin” and “virgin” olive oils which are the least processed forms also contain the highest levels of the protective plant compounds that provide antioxidant effects.
- Oily fish such as sardines, salmon, trout, herring and mackerel are significant component of the Mediterranean Diet and again one of the recognised nutrients they offer is omega 3 important for our gut health.
- Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables The range and diversity of seasonal fruits and vegetables is also of huge importance to our micro biome. The pigments that make up the coloured skins of these fruits and vegetables contain hundreds of different phytonutrients which together with the high levels of insoluble fibre feed and promote the growth of the good gut bacteria we need to cultivate.
- Dairy products high in Fat Dairy products such as milk, cheeses and yogurt all form a large part of the Mediterranean Style Diet and the fermented cheeses and yoghurts with live active cultures, are all understood to help the microbiome and promote general good health
- Nuts and seeds a rich source of healthy fats, fibre and antioxidants- they also provide a good source of protein.
- Red wine: Red wine is another source rich in phytonutrients – great for our gut bacteria to feed on. Red Wine when drunk in moderation has consistently been shown to offer a range of health benefits including reducing blood pressure, inflammation and triglyceride levels. It can also help increase the amount of desirable bacteria in our gut such as Bacteriodes and Bifido bacteria
- Whole Grains, legumes and nuts All of these staples – which together with seasonal fruit and vegetables should form the foundation of your diet – are all great sources of fibre – important to feed the ‘good’ probiotic bacteria in your gut and improve your gut bacteria diversity. Legumes are also a good source of protein.
Foods to reduce or avoid as part of the Mediterranean diet
- Red meat Try to reduce the consumption of red meat to a few times a week, and substitute with fish and poultry. When you do eat red meat keep portions small and ensure it’s lean. Avoid processed meats such as sausage, bacon and other high-fat meats.
- Sugars and refined starch Sugars and refined starch contains little or no nutrients and fuels the growth of undesirable types of bacteria in our gut – strains that are associated with obesity, inflammation and ill health. Foods rich in sugars and refined starch – such as processed foods, sweets, and white bread and dough also upset our blood sugar – and when consumed in excess can result in diabetes. Contrary to popular belief the mediterranean diet does not consist of large amounts of pasta – and in fact pasta is taken as a small course or accompaniment.
- Processed Foods As is common dietary advice processed foods are to be avoided – although thats not to say it is easy – as this really means anything that only comes in a packet. Even mediterranean processed meats such as salamis, sausages and cured hams should be avoided (or reduced as far as possible). A list of some of the more common processed foods to be avoided include
- breakfast cereals
- processed (rubbery) cheeses
- savoury snacks, such as crisps, sausage rolls, pies and pasties
- meat products, such as bacon, sausage, ham and salami
- “convenience foods”, such as microwave meals or ready meals
- cakes and biscuits
- Soft drinks