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A Mediterranean diet can save lives

I was in Spain for holiday and enjoyed the full benefits of a Mediterranean diet (MD) and lifestyle for just one week. Regular family meals, walks and a full Mediterranean diet made me feel so good that I decided to do this blog for you.

Eating olive oil, fish and fruit and vegetables reduces the risk of dying young by nine per cent, a study has revealed.

And as well as cutting cancer and heart disease rates, the foods lower the chance of developing Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease by 13 per cent.

The finding has led researchers to recommend the diet as an ‘effective preventive tool’ against early death and illness.

A diet rich in Mediterranean foods but low in meat, dairy products and alcohol has long been known to boost health and quality of life.

It has also been found to protect against cancer and heart disease, a finding confirmed by this latest research.

The Italian study, which followed the dietary habits of 1.5 million people, is the first to conclude that the foods also prevent chronic disease and early death.

The findings confirm the current guidelines that encourage a Mediterranean-like dietary pattern for the prevention of major chronic diseases. The study, published in the British Medical Journal.

A large study published in the new England journal of medicine 2013 found 30% lower risk of heart disease and stroke. The national institute for health and care excellence recommended a Mediterranean diet in prevention of heart attack and strokes.

If you are trying to lose weight Mediterranean diet can easily be followed with using small amount of olive oil, low fat milk, lean meats when eaten and plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. A Mediterranean diet encourages active living and family meals.

What foods make up the Mediterranean diet?

Traditionally people in the Mediterranean have:

• More fruit and vegetables, wholegrain breads and cereals, nuts, pulses (peas, beans and lentils) seeds and fish

• Less saturated fat from dairy and red meat sources

• Moderate alcohol consumption

• Higher levels of sunshine and more oily fish which results in good levels of vitamin D

How does this affect nutrient intakes? The Mediterranean diet is:

• Rich in monounsaturated oils which are heart healthy (olive oil and nuts)

• A good source of omega 3 fatty acids (seafood, especially oily fish)

• Rich in potassium (wholegrain cereals, fruit, vegetables and nuts)

• Rich in fibre including soluble fibre (wholegrain cereals, vegetables, fruit, beans, peas)

• Rich in antioxidants including vitamins E and C, carotenoids and flavonoids.

• Rich in B vitamins including folic acid

• Low in saturated fat (by reducing red meat and high fat dairy foods)

*Red wine is optional 1 small glass 125 ml per day with meal

Tips to help you adopt a Mediterranean diet -Eat plenty of:

• Fruit and vegetables – fresh, frozen, canned or dried. Aim for at least 5 servings every day, more if you can and include a wide variety. These foods are rich in essential nutrients, they are also low in calories

• Starchy carbohydrate foods – base meals on foods such as bread, noodles, chapatti, rice, pasta and yams. Wholegrain varieties are generally higher in fibre, so good for digestive health too

• Fish. White fish is low in fat and calories, so helpful when managing weight, and oily fish, although higher in fat, contains essential omega-3 fats and vitamin D. People with raised cholesterol are encouraged to eat 2-3 servings of oily fish each week (salmon, pilchards, mackerel, sardines)

• Nuts and nut butters – unsalted varieties. Nut are rich in monounsaturated fats. As a guide try to eat about 30g (a handful) each day


• Aim to maintain a healthy body weight. Not only does being overweight raise cholesterol levels it can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes

• People in the Mediterranean are often more active than we are. Find a physical activity that you enjoy (gardening, walking, golf) and aim to be physically active for at least half an hour on most days of the week

• Look for ways in which you can reduce stress levels, perhaps by taking more time for yourself, limiting work commitments or asking for help

In cooking, spreading and salad dressings:

• Use oils rich in monounsaturated fats, such as olive and rapeseed (canola) oils, and spreading fats made from these. All fats are ‘fattening’ because they are rich in calories, so use sparingly to avoid weight gain

Cut down on:

• High fat foods, especially foods high in saturated fat (fatty meats and meat products, butter, cream and many processed foods)

• Check labels for low fat options (3g or less per 100g is low in fat) and cut back on foods containing a lot of fat (20g or more per 100g)

• For saturated fat, look for foods with 1g or less saturates per 100g (5g or more per 100g means the product is high in saturates)

• Sugary foods. Eat fewer cakes, biscuits and confectionery – they are often high in saturated fat and calories too

• Salt and salty foods. Around 75% of salt comes from processed foods, so cook using fresh ingredients when you can, and cut down on salty foods such as cured/smoked/ processed meats; savoury snacks, bottled sauces and ready meals (check labels for salt/sodium content). Make 6g salt (2.4g sodium) your maximum each day. Too much salt can raise blood pressure in sensitive

Ideas to swap- heart UK

  • Swap lard with olive, rapeseed and sunflower oils

  • Swap butter and margarine with olive and sunflower spreads

  • Swap white bread pasta and rice with whole grain bread pasta and rice

  • Swap corn based cereal with porridge ,oat based cereals, wheat biscuits and muesli

  • Swap sweet biscuits and cakes with oat cakes and digestives

  • Swap chocolate and biscuits with unsalted nuts dried and fresh fruit

  • Swap pastry with lentil beans and pasta

  • Swap take away with home made meals made with basic ingredients

  • Swap sausages, burgers and fatty meats with lean meat, sea food and oily fish

  • Swap high fat cheese, cream and milk with reduced fat dairy and Soya products

Heart UK reference

For specialised Diet and Nutrition advice seek the advice of a Professional Dietitian and Nutritionist Tabby Kabeer