May is International Mediterranean Diet Month. At FFA we thought we would have a look at the components of this diet and how it stacks up in terms of a healthy approach to nutrition.

 A Mediterranean style diet is a plant-based food plan full of foods that are low in cholesterol and saturated fats, and high in fibre and omega-3 fatty acids. It also includes lean meats, fish and dairy. Studies have shown the Mediterranean Diet to be one of the most balanced and heart-healthy ways to eat.

The Background

The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional foods that people used to eat in countries like Italy and Greece back in 1960. Researchers noted that these people were exceptionally healthy compared to other countries and had a low risk of many lifestyle diseases. Numerous studies have now shown that the Mediterranean diet can cause weight loss and help prevent heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes and premature death. People living in the Mediterranean generally get more sun than we do which helps amongst many things with vitamin D uptake, growth hormone production, hormone balance, stress control and boosting general activity. The hotter climate slightly suppresses appetite too, resulting in a better approach to portion control.

There is no one right way to follow the Mediterranean diet, as there are many countries around the Mediterranean Sea and people in different areas may have eaten different foods. Consider all of this as a general guideline, not something written in stone. The plan can be adjusted to your individual needs, fitness goals and preferences. In essence the diet requires you to:

·         Eat: Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil.

·         Eat in moderation: Poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt.

·         Eat only rarely: Red meat.

·         Don't eat: Sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils and other highly processed foods.

Avoid These Unhealthy Foods & Ingredients

·         Added sugar: Soda, candies, ice cream, table sugar and many others.

·         Refined grains: White bread, pasta made with refined wheat, etc.

·         Trans fats: Found in margarine and various processed foods.

·         Refined oils: Soybean oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil and others.

·         Processed meat: Processed sausages, hot dogs, etc.

·         Highly processed foods: Anything labelled "low-fat" or "diet" or which looks like it was made in a factory.

The Mediterranean Diet is not a "diet" but a total way of living which can help with weight loss, cholesterol and diabetes risk reduction and improve your heart health! You will note that its essence involves a sensible approach to nutrition.  This is not new or ground-breaking theory but a good way to ensure your body has all the macro and micronutrients it needs. It also embraces activity and enjoying mealtimes with family and friends which makes it more sustainable in the long term than other more restrictive diets!

If there's any "diet" I would follow it would be this one. My family is more or less sticking to this type of diet but I do top up on a bit more protein from oily fish and lean meats to help with training requirements. Protein helps to preserve and to boost muscle and it can keep you full for longer which helps with calorie control.

With people living on average 3 years longer and remaining more active in their last decade of their lives than in the rest of Europe, it is no wonder many people move there.  But the next best thing might be to start with the Mediterranean Diet!