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What exactly is the Mediterranean diet?

Ok, we've all heard about the Mediterranean diet in the last few years - the Med diet.

The Med diet has so much research associated with it now, including being associated with lower rates of coronary heart disease and cancers, improving blood pressure and even Alzheimer's and mild cognitive decline (that's when your brain isn't functioning as well as it used to-eek!).

But what exactly is a Mediterranean diet?

Unlike what one (Italian!) audience member shouted out to me at a recent presentation, the Med diet does not just mean you eat pasta morning, noon and night.

The easiest way to understand the Med diet is to understand where it comes from. The Med diet as we know it is based on people who live very traditional lives. They might live quite remotely, and are very much self-sustainable. They work their own land and fish or raise their livestock themselves. There's no supermarket nearby for a packet of spaghetti, everything is made from scratch.

Now, I'm not saying you're going to have to make your food from scratch! Don't worry. But, imagine what you would be eating if you did have to make everything from scratch. Would you be eating big bowls of pasta if you had to make the pasta by hand every time? Would you be eating 6 slices of bread if you were the one to create the dough, wait for it to rise, and bake it yourself? Would you be eating red meat every night if you had to kill your own cow for that meat, when that cow is still giving good milk and you have no way to store it safely?

Ok, now we're inside the mind of those who live the Med diet.

Instead, the Med diet focuses on lots of vegetables and whole foods. Things that aren't processed. Load your plate with plenty of veg and you're off to a good start. Add some carbs in (that's the pasta, bread, rice), but keep it less than the amount of veg you have on your plate. Your carbs should be as unprocessed as possible, think whole oats instead of processed breakfast cereals, and grainy breads instead of white breads. You know the drill.

What about protein? Traditional Med diets actually have a lot of vegetarian protein sources, like lentils, chickpeas and beans. Easy to get from that veggie patch in your "Mediterranean backyard". Fish is a really common part of the Med diet, so include some fish in your weekly dinner plan, and add some tuna or sardines to your lunchtime routines. Chicken and turkey make an appearance, but

red meat is quite limited. Some studies indicate red meat may only be eaten twice per month! Wow, that's a lot different to how most people eat in Australia.

Dairy is fairly common, including milk, cheese and yoghurt a few times per week, so try having yoghurt with some fruit for snacks.

You also want to include some healthy fats, that's a big part of the Med diet. Healthy fats include the fats from avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds. So, add olive oil to your veggies and use it as salad dressings (with lemon juice is great!). Snack on unsalted nuts, add avocado to your eggs on toast, and add nuts and seeds to porridge in the morning.

Here's an example of a day of Med diet:

Breakfast: Wholegrain toast with avocado and an egg and drizzled with olive oil.

Morning snack: Yoghurt with berries, nuts and seeds.

Lunch: Couscous and tuna salad with olive oil and lemon juice.

Afternoon snack: Unsalted nuts and an apple.

Dinner: 1 cup cooked pasta with tomato-based sauce, plus half a plate of veggies.

Looking for more guidance as you improve your diet? Get in contact with us today!

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