The word ‘diet’ has become quite an important way of life. Because of rising health risks and stress, all of us have, in some way or another, become unhealthy. We are asked to exercise as and when possible, but with family, kids and work, finding the time to do so becomes tough. Thus, one of the best ways we can do good to our bodies is by eating right. Before you start worrying about reducing food from your diet, hear us out: you don’t have to stop eating tasty food to lose weight or get fit; you just need to eat right. And if you’re looking for a yummy alternative to those drab diet charts, the Mediterranean diet is your best bet.
What Is the Mediterranean Diet? Why Is It Good?
The Mediterranean diet is a derivative of Mediterranean cuisine. Geographically speaking, the Mediterranean region consists of parts of three continents – Europe, Asia, and Africa. The Mediterranean cuisine as we know it comes from the regions found in the Mediterranean Basin, which includes a delectable mix of Maghrebi, Egyptian, Levantine, Turkish, Greek, Italian, French, and Spanish cuisines. The temperate climates of these regions are similar, giving rise to Mediterranean cuisine – parts of which are present in all these regions.
The Mediterranean diet, hence, consists of some great things – olives, whole grains, legumes, unrefined cereals, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, dairy, and wine.
Let’s take a minute to appreciate how delicious this list sounds!
Why is this food good? Well, the list mentioned above is packed with healthful fats, lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and oodles of fibre. Olives are a great source of monosaturated fatty acids, which improve the ‘good cholesterol’ of your body. Whole grains and legumes are rich sources of protein and carbohydrates that make your body work better. Fish is a heart-healthy food that is packed with Omega-3 fatty acids. Lean meats such as chicken are an important source of protein. Dairy products such as cheese and yogurt are good for bone and gut health. Fruits and veggies are an essential source of fibre, vitamins and minerals. And wine, of course, is great for your mood!
The food mentioned above is not just healthy, but also super flavourful and malleable – you can make anything out of it, so you have plenty of options to work with. The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the food habits of the people in the 1940’s and 1950’s – in fact, UNESCO has included the Mediterranean diet in its list of Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Greece, Cyprus, and Croatia for its invaluable methods of growing, processing, cooking, and consuming food.
We told you – you don’t have to eat boring food to be healthy!
Tips From the Mediterranean Diet to Follow for Your Family’s Health
The Mediterranean diet involves a high consumption of olive oil, chickpeas and other legumes, unrefined and whole cereals, fruits and veggies; moderate consumption of wine, fish, chicken and dairy in the form of cheese and yogurt; and very little consumption of red meats such as lamb, pork, and beef.
Now that we have established how great the Mediterranean diet is, here’s how you can incorporate it in your everyday eating habits to keep yourself and your family healthy:
1. Switch From Regular Oil to Olive Oil.
Olive oil is one of the best and healthiest oils you can use to cook. Its monosaturated fatty acids have been proven to reduce heart disease and cholesterol. You can use olive oil to saute and fry, bake, or even use it as a dressing for salads. But before you head out to buy olive oil, remember this: there are three major types of olive oil- extra virgin, virgin, and regular olive oil (or Pomace olive oil). The ‘virgin’ factor of the oils basically affects the taste of your food, because each of these oils has a different smoking point. Thus, extra virgin olive oil, which has a low smoking point, is not used for cooking but as salad dressing. Virgin olive oil can be used for light sauteing, and regular or pomace olive oil has the highest smoking point, making it ideal for cooking.
2. Eat More Grilled Fish and Chicken.
Eating lean protein has been recommended by doctors and nutritionists alike. Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids that are great for the heart, thus reducing chances of heart attacks and moderate blood pressure. They are especially great for people suffering from hypothyroidism and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Lean meat such as chicken are a great source of protein, especially for children – it breaks down in the system slowly, thus releasing more energy so your child can run around, play, and study without feeling tired and lethargic. You can feed your family some grilled fatty fish or chicken kebabs with a generous serving of yoghurt dip, and you’re all set!
3. Eat More Nuts.
Speaking of good fats, how can we forget a good dose of nuts? Almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts are great sources of good fats that are beneficial for health, so don’t forget to munch on a handful of mixed nuts during the day. You can also opt for sesame seeds, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds – eat them as is, or grind the sesame seeds to make tahini, a paste that you can spread on bread. Make sure not to eat too much, though – it can cause your insides to heat up and cause pimples.
4. Eat More Legumes.
One of our staple foods is legumes, and that makes the Mediterranean diet extremely simple to follow. Rajma, chana, dals, matar – we eat these practically everyday. Legumes contain proteins and fibre, and are packed with vitamins and minerals such as zinc, phosphorus, iron, calcium, amd magnesium. Legumes also have a low glycemic index, which means that they can be consumed by diabetics as it breaks down slower and thus regulates the release of insulin. Aside from this, legumes are packed with folates which are excellent for pregnant women. You can get creative with these legumes to make your diet more exciting – make some delicious hummus using chickpeas or rajma, make some delectable matar gravy that you can eat with brown rice or quinoa.
5. Don’t Skip Out On Your Fruits and Veggies.
Go crazy with spinach, cucumbers, onions, lettuce, bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beetroot in your diet. Veggies are full of fibre, water content, vitamins and minerals that are essential for your body (especially bowel movements) to function correctly, and green leafy veggies are essential in the Mediterranean diet. You can cook these veggies the usual way with olive oil, or use some of these mixed with legumes and some dressing, and voila! You have yourself a gorgeous salad. Fruits such as apples, bananas, figs, pears, strawberries, grapes, oranges and melons are great for this diet. However, make sure that these fruits suit you if you have conditions like cholesterol problems or diabetes, since bananas and grapes may not be the best choice. In such cases, go for the recommended fruits for your condition.
6. Enjoy Whole Grains.
Do not go for maida or anything made out of it, such as white bread or durum wheat pasta – instead, go for whole grains such as atta, bajra, jowar, quinoa, etc. They are grown along with the endosperm and germ, which is an essential source of fibre, which is ideal for people who have hypoglycemia or diabetes. The reason for choosing whole grains is that they contain complex carbohydrates, which are different from simple carbohydrates in the sense that complex carbohydrates contain fibre and can keep you full for longer. You can make rotis out of these grains, eat them with yummy gravies, or even put them in your salad.
7. Don’t Shy Away From Eating Cheese and Dahi.
We know you’ve been told that cheese is bad for you, but that is far from the truth. In fact, cheese is said to be healthier than butter! Cheese is an excellent source of calcium, protein, zinc, phosphorus, vitamin A and vitamin B12. Essentially, cheese can and should be consumed by children so as to develop bone strength, and by women (pregnant or otherwise) to keep their haemoglobin levels in check. However, just like any other food, it’s important not to go overboard with cheese because it is also high in sodium, which is dangerous for heart health when consumed in large quantities. Thus, if you’re eating it, make sure you buy cheeses such as cheddar, ricotta, cottage cheese and feta as their process of production changes their composition, making them a healthier option than, say, mozzerella. Use some crumbled feta or cottage cheese in your salad; use cheddar or ricotta in a tasty whole-wheat veggie sandwich, or make your favourite paneer dish – it’s going to be nothing but healthy. Similarly, yoghurt or dahi is filled with ‘good’ bacteria that drastically improves gut flora, making your digestive system squeaky clean and strong. Dahi also has cooling properties, so if you’re feeling hot on a particular day, eating one katori of dahi or one glass of buttermilk will cool you off instantly. You can make healthier versions of your favorite dips or even use it in your gravy in order to consume it.
The Mediterranean diet is super simple to follow because a lot of its components match our regular Indian diet. The entire list of foods are full of proteins, good fats and complex carbohydrates which are excellent for diabetics, heart patients, women and children. To make a change that actually shows results, opt for more raw foods like salads as one meal in your day at the least. There is no need to fear that you won’t be able to stick to your diet, because these foods are delectable when cooked right. Go on, give the Mediterranean diet a shot. Your body will thank you.
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