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In Praise of The Mediterranean Diet: Discover What Eating The Mediterranean Way Means in Practice


Mediterranean mezze

Introduction


The Mediterranean Diet is unique across the well-known diets out there because it is built on principles of balance and moderation, meaning it can be adopted for prolonged periods, even for a lifetime. It seamlessly integrates into anyone’s life. It is highly nutritious, varied, colourful, enjoyable, and satisfying to consume. What is there not to like?

 

Maybe I am biased, given my Lebanese roots. But, moving towards a Mediterranean Diet has been proven to bring forth numerous health benefits, especially if the starting point is a standard Westernised diet. It is also a great baseline diet for people who have reached their initial health goals and want to maintain their results in the long run.

 

Other diets like Keto, Paleo, Vegan also play a major role in the health journey, but they are typically most effective as targeted interventions to support an existing condition or help achieve a specific improvement in a health metric.


In this blog, you will discover what eating the Mediterranean Way means in practice, and how you might need to tweak your eating patterns depending on your health conditions and ambitions.


Background and Prominence in the Media


The Mediterranean Diet has been cited across all forms of media as an idyllic way of eating. Praised in prominent health books like “The Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner and “Eat to Beat Disease” by Dr. William Li, the Mediterranean Diet has gained popularity amongst more health-conscious longevity-seeking audiences.

 

In general, people like a “silver bullet” – a concise way that prescribes “one” thing for a big impact on health outcomes. This concept is capitalised on by large companies and wellness personalities who are trying to push supplements, complimentary therapies, and the like.

 

My hypothesis is that The Mediterranean Diet gained this prominence because it can be communicated so succinctly, and because it promises (and often delivers) a positive health impact.

 

However, it is not one simple silver bullet in practice. If you press someone to tangibly define a Mediterranean Diet, you often get a fuzzy and quite inconsistent answer, depending on who you are asking. So, I am here to distil for you the common principles across those cited opinions, combined my own lived experience as someone who grew up eating Mediterranean, namely Lebanese, cooking.

 

I will also shed light on instances when The Mediterranean Diet would require some tweaking to support better health in certain pre-existing conditions.


Takeaway: The Mediterranean Diet's widespread acclaim in the media reflects its reputation as an balanced eating pattern, although its simplicity can sometimes lead to misconceptions about its application.



aubergine and pomegranate


Cornerstones of The Mediterranean Diet:

What, When, and How to Eat


There is no “handbook” on what a standard Mediterranean Diet looks like, or even if there is, the interpretation varies widely. This is both a pro, in the sense that the Mediterranean Diet is flexible, but also a con, because it can be widely mis-interpreted.

 

Following the Mediterranean Diet is not just about what one eats, it is also largely about when and how one eats as well. Here are the main cornerstones:

 

WHAT to eat?

  • Emphasis on whole foods: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, legumes, etc.

  • Vegetables take centre stage: they are not an after-thought on a plate, instead, they are the main ingredient in stews, side plates, salads, and soups

  • Minimal red meat consumption: Animal meats and poultry are eaten in small quantities, as part of stews, or on special occasions like family barbecues

  • Focus on plant-proteins: Emphasis on whole grains, beans, chickpeas, lentils and others which are combined to form plant-based complete proteins (i.e. combines all the essential amino acids)

  • Occasional fish consumption: Omega-3 oily fish like sardines, salmon, and anchovies are culinary delicacies, consumed on a regular basis, about 1-2 times per week.

  • Fermented foods: Fermented foods like yogurts with live cultures, pickles, and vegetable ferments are a staple in every household.

  • Herbs and spices: The use of herbs and spices is central to almost every dish bringing health benefits from ingredients like cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, oregano, etc.

  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is king: Sourced annually in big tins, shortly after harvest, EVOO is a source of anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) that are central to health.


WHEN to eat?

  • Seasonal eating: The produce available in stores represents the latest fruit and vegetable harvests, which provides an increased nutrient content and much more flavour.

  • Bigger lunches, smaller dinners: People tend to have heartier lunches and smaller dinners, which aids in promoting quality sleep and allowing the digestive system to rest and regenerate overnight.  

  • Overnight fasts: There is usually a stretch of at least 12 hours between the last meal, and the first meal of the day.  

  • Fasting: Most religions will have a form of annual fasting (Ramadan or Lent), which helps reset bodily systems, and stimulates autophagy (i.e. cell clean-up).

HOW to eat?

  • Focus on home cooking: Most meals are cooked at home. Eating out is for special celebrations. Home deliveries are now sadly a new phenomenon that is on the rise among the more urban populations.

  • Savouring mealtimes: People tend to take time to sit down and enjoy their meals, even on a workday, you find people meeting up for lunch. Back in the day, men even used to go back home to have lunch, and then come back to work in the afternoon. Fascinating!

  • Food brings people together: Eating is the time for socialising and laughter with friends and family members.


Takeaway: The Mediterranean Diet's foundation lies in whole foods, seasonal eating, and communal dining practices, emphasizing not only what one eats but also when and how meals are consumed.



pre-existing conditions


No “One Size-Fits-All”: Suggested Tweaks Depending on Pre-existing Conditions

 

Because the Mediterranean Diet is loosely defined and open to interpretation, following it “roughly“ will not be good enough for someone with a specific health objective.

 

Below, I will walk through four main contexts whereby the Mediterranean model requires tweaking to be more effective.

 

Excess weight:

 

The Mediterranean Diet is by no means a low-calorie diet. Packed full of energy-dense "healthy fats" like olive oil and nuts, the energy intake quickly adds up if you are not paying attention. If someone who is on a weight loss mission is consuming endless amounts of healthy fats, and are not overly active, then the excess energy will be stored for later.

 

Therefore, watching for the quantities of healthier unsaturated fats becomes imperative for weight loss. Recommendations are for a maximum of 500 kcal or 55g of healthy fats per day, which is equivalent to 1 fillet of salmon, half an avocado, and 2 tbsp of olive oil. That's it!

  

So, if you have a weight loss ambition, you can still be on the Mediterranean Diet, but you may need to restrict your intake of fats.


Download my visual guide to healthy fats to get an idea of which fats are health-promoting and what are the daily requirements from each type of fats in an easy to recall way.




 

High blood lipid levels:

 

The Mediterranean Diet can be over-indexed on saturated fats from animal sources like meat and poultry, eggs, and dairy products. If someone is actively addressing their blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels, they will potentially need to restrict their intake of saturated fats.

 

Dietary recommendations are for a maximum of 200 kcal or 22g of saturated fats per day. Translating that to commonly used ingredients, it is equivalent to 3 tbsp of butter or 6 eggs.

 

What surprised me the most was the saturated fat content of cheese! As a big cheese fan, I never paid attention to my serving size. Having only 3 slices of cheddar cheese maxes out the daily requirement of energy from saturated fats. That was completely mind-boggling to me!

 

If you are trying to manage your cholesterol or triglyceride levels, you will need to radically reduce the saturated fat intake on a Mediterranean Diet.

 

High blood sugar:

 

The Mediterranean Diet can be carbohydrate-rich in some instances, making it worthy of attention for blood sugar regulation. Amazing grain, pasta, and rice-based dishes are abundant.

 

If you are trying to manage your blood glucose levels on a Mediterranean Diet, then you will need to pay attention to the balanced plate principles. The plate should be loaded with non-starchy vegetables (50%), complex fiber-rich carbs only (25%), and protein (25%) to help keep glucose levels stable.

 

Ongoing cancer treatment:

 

As the Mediterranean Diet is carbohydrate rich at times, it will require some tweaking to best support ongoing cancer treatment.

 

Cancer cells are notoriously hungry for glucose, so restricting or even eliminating carbohydrate intake can support a better recovery and positively impact the effectiveness of medical interventions. This is especially true for solid tumour types of cancer, where following a more ketogenic approach to nutrition has been shown to support treatment.

 

Takeaway: While the Mediterranean Diet offers numerous health benefits, adjustments are required for individuals with specific health goals or conditions, highlighting the importance of customization and informed dietary choices.


Conclusion

 

Not one diet is faultless. It is all circumstance-dependent. The Mediterranean Diet is an amazing all-rounder providing balance, variety, and nutrients for anyone looking to sustain their results in the long run. Its adaptability, rich flavours, and health benefits make it a formidable choice for anyone seeking to improve their well-being.


While the Mediterranean Diet offers a robust foundation for overall health, it's essential to recognize that it may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, particularly for those with specific health objectives or conditions.


If you want some practical tips to eat more Mediterranean style jump on a complimentary call with me to get tailored suggestions and ideas that would work for you.




 

Thank you,

Nada Soubra


Resilience & Metabolic Health Coach

Founder of The Healthy Chain



health coach london


 

 

 

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