You may have pondered across the idea of sitting under the Mediterranean sun, soaking up its warmth and culture. These may not be the only thoughts coming to mind when the word ‘Mediterranean’ is mentioned, with the new waves of information and research, suggesting that Mediterranean eating pattern may be one of the most beneficial styles for our heath.
So is it just the food or a certain dish? As the Mediterranean beaches wash over the shores of 21 countries, the food is more of a pattern, with a broad basis of ingredients, rather than a cuisine. But traditionally the food accompanied the Mediterranean ‘diaita’ – or the Mediterranean way of life. The Mediterranean’s knew and love their food – but connection and sharing was a key part of many Mediterranean homes and communities. Many people had labour heavy jobs, so movement was common, and life was a slower pace, which could be attributed to lower stress levels. Research suggests these may be some reasons for the health benefits experienced.
What was the basis of traditional Mediterranean eating?
Plants-based staples: including vegetables, wholegrains and legumes.
These staples are full of vitamins, minerals and diverse fibres. The fibre and low GI carbohydrates provide slow release energy keeping you full, meanwhile, the diversity feed many types of gut bacteria (or gut flora). These guys, the gut bacteria, make a lot of compounds. One of their major jobs involve making immune factors, meaning, they play a big role in fighting bugs and protecting our system. The vitamins and minerals in the foods can be likened to the ‘nuts and bolts’ in our body – helping us to use the energy, and help the systems to hum along nicely. Grains are best eaten whole, in minimally-processed ways. This is because the processing removes a lot of the ﬁbre, vitamins and minerals. Whole grains include wheat, oats, rye, barley, rice, corn, buckwheat, amaranth, sorghum, quinoa, teff and millet.
More plant-based protein, seafood and reduced meat. Legumes, beans nuts and seeds made up a large amount of the Mediterranean protein intake. New research has shown links that reducing meat-based proteins for plant-based proteins may have help us age and have a protective effect against cancer and developing type 2 diabetes. This could be partly because the plants also have the fibre, helping the immune system and maintaining good blood sugar levels and bowel functioning.
Legumes are chickpeas, split peas and lentils and some beans include kidney, cannellini, pinto and black beans. In the way of seafood, much of it that was consumed had rich sources of omega-3 fats, which can help keep our hearts healthy in several ways. Other meats have higher amounts of saturated fat, which when out of proportion, can raise cholesterol levels. Omega-3 rich seafoods include salmon, sardines, tuna, herring and anchovies. Fresh, canned or boxed are all fine!
Fruit and Greek yoghurt: These were commonly use for a dessert or snack. Similar to your veggies, the fruit is abundant in fibre, vitamins and minerals. The yoghurt provides more food for your gut bacteria, is filling, and is a source of calcium. Seasonal, sweet and crunchy fruit with a creamy yoghurt made for a budget friendly, delicious snack or dessert.
Healthy fats: It would be hard to find a pantry without a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil! It is a good source of heart-healthy fat and is full of phytonutrients (or plant-nutrients), like antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. These have been shown to assist with health in many ways.
You can use EVOO in baking, grilling, sautéing, stir-frying – or dressing on salads and vegetables. Other common healthy fats included nuts and seeds. (Avocados were uncommon, but are also one!),
Different nutrients in a variety of some of the foods mentioned above in the Mediterranean eating pattern, have also shown links between improved brain functioning, mood and aging.
So, how can we put more of the Mediterranean into our meals? I have 10 top tips
1. To increase plant proteins, add legumes to casseroles, bolognaises, curries, soups, stews, salads or burger patties! These are a cheap and could be an idea for a vegetarian meal!
2. Try aiming for 1-2 vegetarian meals per week and omega-3 rich seafoods and red meats 2-3 x per week each. Make up the remaining days with your families favourite dishes with white meat and eggs. Less processed meats in deli meats and sausages can help your bowels too
3. Getting your seafood: top crackers, grains or salad at lunch with canned fish. For dinner make a tuna bake or enjoy crispy skinned salmon with your favourite side of fresh veg.
4. Blend chickpeas into hummus, or making with pumpkin and beetroot and delicious too.
5. For some and crunch – top your salad, pasta or breakfast with some nuts or have as a snack
6. Enjoy fruit and creamy yoghurt as a dessert or snack. Or try adding fruits to a salad – they can make a bland meal a little more interesting and are cheaper than packaged food too J
7. Cook, spread and drizzle with your foods with extra-virgin olive oil.
8. Top avocado on toast, a sandwich or your lunch crackers like Vita-Weats or Ryvita’s.
9. Enjoy being physically active – finding something you enjoy or ask a friend to come too.
10. When you’re able – share meals together, laugh and enjoy your food!