The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating rather than a formal diet plan. It features foods eaten in Greece, Spain, southern Italy and France, and other countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. More and more research is showing that by following this way of eating we can lower our risk of certain diseases, improve our mood, boost our energy levels and keep our heart and brain healthy. It’s not a coincidence that these guys are living until they are over 100! As a dietitian and food lover I needed to do some research into this so-called Mediterranean diet, so I packed my bags and went to southern Italy for 3+ weeks (hard work – right?)
Here are my top 5 Italian take-away points:
- Tomatoes have flavour and are used in every dish! These delicious vegetables are a good source of vitamin C and a source of vitamin A, folate and lycopene. Lycopene is an antioxidant, which gives tomatoes their colour. Research suggests that eating tomatoes and tomato products may help reduce the risk of prostate cancer. Tip: cooked tomatoes have more lycopene than raw tomatoes. Margherita pizza anyone?
- Skip the butter on bread and use extra virgin olive oil or nothing because the bread is that good
- Salad dressing? What’s that? Just use extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar!
- Perfect portions: 85g of pasta (always) - moderation is key!
- The importance Italians place on digestion. Enjoy multiple courses over a long-late dinner (restaurants do not open until 7:30 or 8pm) and always finish the meal with a digestive liquor.
A major factor behind the benefits of this diet may be its influence on inflammation and oxidative stress, which is at the root of chronic disease. The diet also is relatively high in total fat, but more than one-half of the fat comes from monounsaturated fats; the saturated fat levels are low. In addition, the dietary pattern’s high intake of whole plant foods boosts fibre, mineral, vitamin, and phytochemical levels.
Let’s have Italian tonight!