Eating healthy like the Mediterraneans


Wine and pizza may seem unhealthy, but the original pizza Margherita and wine drunk in moderation can be part of the Mediterranean diet. — Filepic

I recently took a trip to Italy and loved the food there. I had pizzas, pastas, tiramisu and gelato. None of it seems very healthy to me, so what exactly is this Mediterranean diet that so many people say is super healthy?

The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional foods that people used to eat in those countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

These countries include France, Spain, Greece and Italy.

It was noted that the people living around this area had a low risk of many chronic diseases, especially heart disease.

They are also relatively healthy.

It is a diet that encourages you to eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and heart-healthy fats.

You are discouraged from eating processed foods, added sugar and refined grains.

Mediterranean people also do a lot of physical activity, and they like sharing meals and eating slowly so that they do not eat too much.

They also have a lot less stress.

All of these factors contribute to their overall health.

Tiramisu and gelato came later, so many would not exactly consider those traditional foods!

Wait, so what exactly should I be eating for this Mediterranean diet?

Because there are so many cuisines in the countries around the Mediterranean sea, there are a lot of things that you can include for such a diet.

They include:

  • Vegetables – eat plenty of tomatoes and other vegetables like broccoli, kale, onions and sweet potatoes.
  • Fruits – include all sorts of fruits like oranges, bananas, grapes, melons and peaches, among others.
  • Nuts, seeds and nut butters
  • Legumes – these include beans, peanuts, pulses, lentils, peas and chickpeas.
  • Whole grains – eat brown rice, not white rice; oats, corn, whole wheat bread and whole wheat pasta are also good.
  • Seafood – the Mediterranean sea is rife with seafood like salmon, clams, mussels, sardines, tuna and shrimp.
  • Poultry – this includes both chicken and eggs.
  • Dairy – milk, cheese and yoghurt are rife in all types of Mediterranean foods.

To flavour your dishes, you can put in herbs and spices like garlic, basil, rosemary, sage, pepper and cinnamon.

Mediterranean food also tends to be cooked in healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil.

All of these are natural and wholesome.

Do avoid refined carbohydrates like sweets and white bread.

Butter can also be fattening if eaten too much.

Do note that Mediterranean people dip their bread in olive oil, rather than smother it with butter.

OK, it sounds like a diet I can stick to because there are plenty of options in it. What are the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet?

According to studies, a Mediterranean diet can reduce heart disease risk by 28% to 30%.

In a 2013 study by researchers in Johns Hopkins University in the United States, it was found that a Mediterranean-style diet, together with regular exercise, healthy body weight and not smoking, protected people against early heart disease by slowing the build-up of plaque in their artery walls.

This reduced risk of an early death by 80%.

A Mediterranean diet can reduce your blood cholesterol levels, enhance your body’s ability to absorb blood sugar, and slow down inflammation.

But I don’t live near the Mediterranean sea. How do I maintain this Mediterranean diet while living in Malaysia?

You don’t need to always eat out at an expensive Italian restaurant to have a Mediterranean diet in Malaysia.

Malaysian food, good as it tastes, is not always the healthiest option.

You can change your current diet to a Mediterranean one by simply switching a few options at a time.

Johns Hopkins recommends replacing one unhealthy item with a healthy item for three weeks.

Then replace two more unhealthy items with healthy ones, and stick with the changes for another three weeks.

The idea is to take it slowly and steadily, instead of making a drastic switch that you cannot stick to.

Oh, how?

For instance, if you currently eat white bread and butter for breakfast and drink whole milk, you can simply switch to oatmeal and fresh fruit.

Or you can have an omelette with tomatoes, mushrooms and onions.

Instead of whole milk, you can switch to fat-free milk.

For lunch, instead of eating curry mee or laksa, try having a salad.

And instead of piling on a creamy sauce for your salad dressing, try just drizzling it with olive oil.

Plain olive oil on salad or bread is extremely delicious.

For dinner, try to eat a fruit instead of a sugary dessert after the main meal.

On a Mediterranean diet, you do not need to count calories.

Is pizza considered healthy then? And don’t many Mediterranean people drink a lot of wine?

Pizza is not healthy if you consume too much of it!

But also, do note that the original pizza – known as pizza Margherita – comes from Naples, and its crust is actually very thin, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, and is only covered with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil.

It was only after people started adding all sorts of other ingredients, like processed meat (pepperoni), that pizza started becoming less healthy.

Wine, if taken in moderation (like one glass a day), is also healthy.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only, and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.

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Diet , nutrition , Mediterranean diet

   

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