What is the Mediterranean Diet? A diet or a lifestyle?

If you're wondering what the vaunted "Mediterranean diet" is all about, you should know first of all that it is not a new fad, nor is it a "diet" in the sense of being just a weight-loss regimen. It is, rather, a way of eating and living that has existed for centuries throughout the Mediterranean region… a cuisine built around a few simple principles and the flavours of that temperate climate. 

The Mediterranean diet is not a short-term plan, but instead a lifelong pattern of eating that begins in earliest childhood and is passed on from generation to generation. This nutritional program is associated with reduced risks of cardio-vascular disease, diabetes and certain kinds of cancer, and is synonymous with vitality and longevity. Combined with exercise, it's also a good way to keep your weight in check.

These days, our eating habits often include excessive amounts of red meat, dairy products, refined sugars and fast food. Based on the pretext that slowly-absorbed carbohydrates like pasta, rice and potatoes lead to weight gain, we've reduced our intake of them, or even cut them out of our diet altogether. The Mediterranean diet, however, is completely the opposite.

A Question of Balance 

The Mediterranean diet contains little red meat and few eggs (limited to 2 or 3 per week). Fish and chicken are the more usual choices. In particular, meals are centered around:

  • slow-burning complex carbohydrates supplied mainly by grains and cereals, particularly wheat, barley and buckwheat
  • these grains are accompanied by condiments having anti-aging properties: garlic, onion, herbs and aromatic vegetables
  • everything is cooked with unsaturated vegetable oil, mainly olive oil, known for its medicinal (digestive, liver-cleansing, etc.) properties:
  • to this is added a regular consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and some dairy products, including low-fat cheeses and plain yogurt

Vitamin E is essential to the health and youthfulness of cells

Where can we find a good source of this youth-enhancing vitamin that plays such an important part in cell vitality?

  • First of all, in wheat products: wheat germ, pasta, semolina, whole wheat flour
  • In fruits and vegetables, including alfalfa and chestnuts
  • In sesame and sunflower seeds and nuts

An important source of fibre

There is an increasing tendency to reduce the amount of fibre in our diets, which has disastrous repercussions for our bodies. A low-fibre diet leads to reduced intestinal transit and increases our predisposition to digestive system diseases, such as colon cancer, colitis, diverticulitis and constipation. There are several types of fibre:

  • cellulose, contained in all fruits and vegetables
  • pectin, found more specifically in apples and the membrane of citrus peels, red currants, pomegranates and carrots
  • mucilage, found in cereals which swell in water, seaweed (a little sushi perhaps?), wild rice, sesame seeds, and certain fruits such as quince, prunes, etc.
  • bran is very rich in fibre. It can be eaten in cereals or muffins.
  • vegetables (dried beans etc.), coconut pulp, fenugreek, dates, etc.

How do you reconcile pasta and dieting?

Pasta on its own doesn't cause weight gain… it's the sauces and accompaniments, often very rich, that throw things out of balance and make a meal "fattening." Fettuccine Alfredo is certainly a treat… but look at the recipe: butter, cream and cheese! To which some gourmands (and I admit I'm one of them) add some slivered ham or smoked salmon.

Pasta, made from durum wheat semolina, rich in complex carbohydrates (slow-burning sugars), ensures our body has a constant level of glucose so that our body's insulin levels remain stable while our caloric intake remains relatively low. Furthermore, during cooking, 50 g of uncooked pasta will absorb 100 g of water, thus contributing to the body's hydration, while still coming in at under 175 calories. Preceded by some crudités and accompanied by vegetables, some chicken or lean fish, pasta can be part of a complete and balanced meal containing fewer than 300 calories.

To be avoided at all costs:

  • butter, cream, high-fat cheeses
  • rich desserts and pastries
  • saturated fats
  • sweet liqueurs

Some hints and tips

  • steam, poach, bake or roast
  • grill on the barbecue
  • cook in a skillet with just a touch of oil
  • sauté in a wok or on a teppan-yaki (Japanese-style grill)
  • low-fat soups - experiment with variations on minestrone and other vegetable soups
  • choose lighter salad dressings and vinaigrettes instead of mayonnaise
  • use low-fat plain yogurt, good for the digestive system
  • if you like a glass of orange juice in the morning, choose one with pulp

The Mediterranean Diet - it figures!

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