One of the most frequently recommended eating plans by health experts is the Mediterranean diet. From weight loss to blood pressure, eating a diet rich in fresh and natural produce has many proven health benefits. However, if you are busy and on a limited budget, the thought of overhauling your diet can be overwhelming.
Here’s a look at exactly what the Mediterranean diet involves and how you can incorporate it into your lifestyle.
- What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is so called because it is typical of the foods eaten by the population of southern European countries such as Italy and Greece. SInce the 1960s, multiple studies have been conducted into the unusual health and longevity of populations of these areas, and researchers have concluded that their diet is the major contributing factor.
The main foods of the Mediterranean diet include a variety of fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables, fish and seafood eaten at least twice a week, olive oil, whole grains, beans and legumes, and nuts and seeds. It also includes smaller amounts of dairy produce, poultry and eggs, and even the odd glass of red wine.
Processed foods made with refined grains and with high added sugars, salt, or refined oils are eaten only on rare occasions.
- What are the benefits of a Mediterranean diet?
There are myriad health benefits to following the Mediterranean diet, which have been backed up by verified medical research. The NHS recommends that the diet is followed by people who want to lose weight, for example. Plant based diets are naturally low in empty calories and high in fibre, which help to keep you feeling fuller for longer.
The low sugar in the diet helps to mitigate against the risk of type 2 diabetes and may help to manage it in people who already suffer from the condition. It also helps to maintain good heart health due to the low level of saturated fat and foods rich in antioxidants, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables. This reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The balance of nutrients and healthy unsaturated fats may also help to reduce blood pressure, lower the risk of developing certain cancers including bowel, breast, prostate, stomach, bladder, pancreatic and lung cancer.
Furthermore, credible studies have found that the diet can reduce the risk of developing cognitive disorders such as dementia by having a protective effect on the brain. It can also help to maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria which aids good digestive health and can help to manage disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome.
- Tips for eating a Mediterranean diet
You may be keen to eat a Mediterranean diet for any of the reasons outlined above, but are worried that you don’t have the time or the budget to stick to it. However, there are plenty of tips that will allow you to go a long way to your goals without being time consuming or expensive. Here are a few ideas.
- Batch cooking
Set aside an hour or two at the weekend to batch cook casseroles and chillies in a slow cooker or the oven. You can then portion them up and freeze them for quick dinners during the week. Use lean meat choices such as poultry, or make vegetarian chilli con carne and add extra protein with some low fat feta cheese.
Red and green peppers, onions, garlic, celery, courgettes, mushrooms, and tomatoes all make excellent ingredients. Batch cooking also works out cheaper per meal, especially if you use a slow cooker. Serve with a baked potato or whole grain rice, and add a handful of freshly chopped herbs such as parsley or coriander.
- Sprinkle nuts and seeds onto meals
Nuts and seeds such as flax seeds and almonds can be sprinkled on porridge, scrambled eggs, soups or stews to add extra flavour and texture. They can also be ground and blended into sources, or simply eaten as a healthy snack choice in place of crisps or biscuits.
- Use fruit as a cereal topper
Keep berries, apples, or bananas in stock and get into the habit of adding them to your breakfast cereal in the morning to help achieve your five a day. A mixture of chopped fruit and plain low fat yoghurts is a great alternative to processed desserts that are high in fat and sugar.
- Swap red meat for oily fish
If you are used to a meat heavy diet, try swapping red meat for a portion of oily fish such as salmon at least twice a week.
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