I was recently in Greece and got to sample their Mediterranean style diet firsthand. After doing so, I could definitely see why it’s known for its health benefits across the world. The meals never tasted greasy, processed, or too heavy. Looking more into the diet they follow, it’s easy to see why. A Mediterranean diet has been associated with lower risks of developing heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
What makes up a Meditteranean style diet? It’s made up of lots of produce like fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, peas, and grains. Smaller amounts of chicken and fish are also included. The unsaturated fat comes from olive oil and nuts. For those of age, red wine is a staple as well. Red meat is occasionally added, but in very small doses.
Another perk to the Mediterranean diet? It’s usually very economical and affordable. Besides, even if the fresh produce does cost more occasionally in the upfront cost, it will save you money down the road on health bills. It’s a prevention method rather than a treatment, but it keeps you healthy for the long stretch!
In 1980, Dr. Ansel Keys conducted a study to see which countries had the lowest death rates. He found that Japan, Greece, and southern Italy had some of the lowest. What did they have in common? This style of diet. They eat a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, along with legumes and cereals. To copy them, eat whatever produce is in season in your region, and try to make it as fresh as possible. Also incorporate the moderate amounts of fish, white meat, nuts, and dairy. If you notice a pattern in this diet, its aim is to keep everything as fresh and natural as possible, and unprocessed. Very small quantities of sweets, red meat and eggs are also used in meals.
Herbs as flavoring are also important aspects of a Mediterranean diet. The Greek people, as well as others in their region, focus on adding a wide range of herbs to their meals instead of the more Western staples like salt and pepper. They add variety to the meals and flavor without taking away from the nutritional value of the food.
There are simple ways that you can start making a transition to this style of diet. Start by keeping lots of fruits and vegetables on hand for snacking. Even a handful of nuts is a great protein-filled and satisfying choice to have between meals. Next, cook your food in olive oil, not butter. Try out some different herbs to spice things up instead of relying on just salt. Make sure to buy whole grains whenever you can instead of just white bread and refined pastas and cereals. Take out some of the red meat from your diet and go vegetarian or substitute for fish. Switch to skim or 1% milk instead of the full fat dairy if that is your usual choice. These simple choices can set you on the right path to live like the Mediterranean people.
However, there’s more to reaping all of those health benefits besides just what you’re doing in the kitchen. Exercise is also an important part. People from these regions walk a lot, work on their land, and generally stay active. They also sit down and enjoy their meals over an hour or two, instead of standing to eat or eating on the go like too many of us do in the Western regions. By following these habits as well, we can fully enjoy the benefits of a Mediterranean diet and lifestyle without much sacrifice.