Back in 2011 when Hollywood actor Penélope Cruz shed all her post-pregnancy weight within months, she credited the success to the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet). “I eat well but I try to eat healthily… My diet is the Mediterranean diet, which is good food,” she told British tabloid, The Daily Mirror. Apart from Cruz, there have been several other celebrities such as Rachael Ray and Brooke Burke who have found power in the diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, dairy and of course, olive oil.
It was obvious for the MedDiet to be named the best overall diet for 2019 by the U.S. News & World Report. The diet also went on to secure the best diet for healthy living, best diabetes diet, best heart-healthy diet, best plant-based diet and the easiest diet to follow. U.S. News convened an expert panel that consisted of the country's top nutritionists, dietary consultants and physicians specialising in areas such as diabetes, heart health and weight loss. After an in-depth survey was conducted, each panelist scored various diets (41 in all) in areas such as ease of compliance, a likelihood of losing significant weight in the short and long term, and effectiveness against cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, with safety being double-counted.
What is it?
“Inspired mainly by the eating habits of southern European countries, the Mediterranean diet doesn’t state a total calorie intake, the exact serving amounts per day or physical activity parameters,” explains Jaee Khamkar, Dietician, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan. It is a non-structured diet that allows you to figure out how many calories you should eat to lose or maintain your ideal weight and what you should do to stay active.
Encouraging you to replace empty calories with real food and engage in physical activity, the Mediterranean diet is a way of living. The diet focuses on the food pyramid model emphasising on fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, olive oil, herbs and spices; allowing the consumption of fish and seafood a couple of times a week; poultry, eggs, dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt in moderation; and sweets and red meat occasionally. “This budget-friendly diet can be followed by anyone – from men and women to even children,” says Khamkar.
What to eat, what not to?
The wide variety of foods in the Mediterranean diet’s pyramid allows it to be adapted into delicious and nutritious Indian meals. A good place to start would be by substituting butter, ghee or any other refined oils with olive oil suggests Khamkar. Make sure to say no to refined grains such as white bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, and instead embrace the goodness of whole grains such as whole wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, etc. Stock up on vegetables such as tomatoes, kale, broccoli, spinach, carrots, cucumbers and onions, and fresh fruits such as apples, bananas, dates, grapes and melons, for best results. Other than that, “Making legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds, such as almonds, walnuts, sunflower and cashews a part of your daily diet is a must,” she adds.
Meat lovers should substitute processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, bacon and even red meat with fish or other seafood. MedDiet lets you treat yourself to dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yoghurt, and eggs.
Since Mediterranean cuisine has a plethora of herbs and spices to choose from, it becomes simpler to cook up a healthy and flavourful meal. However, while on this diet, it’s important that you steer clear from added sugars of any kind—ice creams, candies, chocolates, and sugary sodas—says Khamkar.
Where to start?
Eating like a Mediterranean is as much a lifestyle change as it is a dietary change.
Practice mindful eating: Instead of gobbling down your meal, savour every bite. Eating slowly allows you to tune in to your body’s hunger so that you eat just until you’re satisfied and not overeat. Moreover, the diet also encourages you to sit down with your family and friends.
Switch to olive oil: It is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids which help improve HDL or the ‘good’ cholesterol. Besides, “Olive oil serves as the main source of dietary fat, helping you stay full for longer, which in turn could help keep your fingers off the nibbles between meals,” says Khamkar.
Wine your way to health: One of the things that make the diet so appealing is the inclusion of red wine. When consumed in moderation, red wine is said to help lower the risk of several diseases, including cardiovascular diseases. While that being said, Khamkar explains that the recommended intake for women is about 90ml and for men about 150ml.
Make time for exercise: You don’t have to slave away at the gym with the Mediterranean diet. Khamkar suggests walking around the block, office or home, for a few minutes daily. Wherever possible, ditch the elevator and take the stairs. Besides, “You can make the household chores into a workout session. And when time permits, squeeze in some jumping jacks in between,” she says.
A diet plan for reference
Khamkar shares a two-day meal plan to help you get started:
|Meal||Day 1||Day 2|
|Breakfast||Oatmeal topped with fresh fruits and nuts||Quinoa with lentils and spinach|
|Lunch||Roasted Chicken with brown rice||Baked chicken with buckwheat and vegetables of your choice|
|Afternoon Snack||Sprouts with one whole pomegranate||Hung curd with mixed berries|
|Late Evening||Un-sweetened, un-flavoured yoghurt with fruits||Trail mix and nuts|
|Dinner||Wheat pasta with mixed seafood soup||Tandoor fish with salad|
Why should you switch to this diet?
The Mediterranean diet features mostly fresh foods that have gone through minimal processing; with foods low in saturated fat and sugar, which is a boon for diabetics.
Fights air pollution: A study presented at the American Thoracic Society 2018 International Conference in San Diego found that consuming a Mediterranean diet rich in antioxidants could reduce the adverse effects of air pollution on health.
Forever young: One of the biggest upsides to taking on the Mediterranean diet is its ability to add years to your life. Thanks to the inclusion of olive oil that is high in monosaturated fats, which is known to be good for longevity and heart health.
Healthy heart: Results from a study conducted by researchers from Universidad de Navarra, Spain found that Mediterranean diet could help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases than those who ate a low-fat diet. Another study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, states that a Mediterranean diet could actually help promote heart health.
Mental well-being: A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a diet based on fish, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, pulses and nuts could be good for one’s mental health and quality of life. The results showed that participants who stuck to a Mediterranean diet scored higher on the quality of life questionnaire (categories of physical and mental well-being were included), compared to those who followed non-Mediterranean diets.