What is the Mediterranean Diet and What Can You Learn from It?

Many things influence the way we eat; where we live, our cultural norms and values, our personal experiences, history and preferences. There is no one “right” way to eat but we can learn from styles of eating and food preparation so that we can fashion for ourselves a balance, healthy, enjoyable eating habits.

The Mediterranean Diet refers to a way of eating that fosters healthy eating practices in combination with the traditional foods and flavours of countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, such as Greece, Spain, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Lebanon and Turkey, to name a few. You may have heard of it before but may wonder what it means, read on!

Rather than a hard and fast “diet” the Mediterranean Diet offers suggestions on what to eat and how to live an active and healthy lifestyle. It has gained a lot of prominence for the evidence that supports it as a “heart-healthy” way of eating. There is evidence that those living in Mediterranean have lower incidences of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.

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What does the Mediterranean Diet look like and how can you incorporate strategies and recommendations it brings into your way of eating?

Eat lots of fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are the foundation of any good meal plan and nutritional practices for a reason. Fruits and vegetables are a high source of antioxidants, important for not just your heart health, but your overall health and well-being as well! Try this recipe for a Traditional Greek Salad also on Empowering Eats for a dish with lots of veggies and Mediterranean flavours!

Have Whole Grains

Whole grains are a much more nutritious choice than white and refined grains which is why they are a better choice for a healthy diet. They contain many more nutrients and fibre. Not all of grain choices need to be whole grains but try to have whole grain products most often.

Eat fish twice a week

As many of the Mediterranean countries boards the Mediterranean Sea, it is no surprise that fish is a menu choice! Fish like salmon, tuna and sardines have many healthy fats like Omega-3 which are important for heart health.

Reduce the amount of Red Meat You Eat

Red meat, which is higher in Omega-6 fatty acids can increase levels of inflammation in the body. Red meat is also higher in saturated fats than other leaner protein source and too much saturated fat can accumulate in the body leading to health problems such as excess weight gain and coronary heart disease. Therefore, you can still have red meat (like this delicious recipe for Greek Stuffed Eggplant!), just not every day.

Opt-in for olive oil!

Olive oil is one of the most well-recognized staple in Mediterranean cooking methods. Olives and olive oil have monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), found to decrease levels of total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Nuts and seeds are another source of MUFAs and they also recommend these as part of the Mediterranean Diet.

Wait … did someone say Wine?

Yes, according to the Mediterranean Diet allows red wine in moderation. In fact, red wine contains resveratrol which is an antioxidant that may act to protect you from heart-disease and some cancers. Moderate consumption of alcohol means. Remember to be responsible when you indulge because if over consumed alcohol can easily add excess calories to your diet and affect liver function and health.

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Notice how the Mediterranean Diet is not restrictive. It offers flexibility and guidance to encourage developing healthy habits.

Which habits do you already follow? Which one (s) do you want to try?

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Meet the Superheroes in Your Diet

Super heroes are an important part of our culture. We all love our super-heroes. And for our bodies their superheroes are called antioxidants. The main function of antioxidants is to protect our cells from oxidative damage. Antioxidants may also improve immune function and help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Oxidation is a natural process of life, it’s one of the contributors to aging. It is a reaction that occurs for various reasons, and results in the production of free-radicals.

The free radicals produced by oxidation are like the villains, they damage the cells of our bodies because they are what we call “unstable” meaning they are missing an important part of themselves – an electron (special sub atomic particle) from their outermost electron orbital. As a result, they are always looking to steal an electron from any innocent cell to complete their orbitol.

It follows that free radicals will produce more free radicals which will do more damage to our bodies. So it’s important we find ways to defend ourselves and stop the destruction before it goes too far. There are many reasons the free radicals get produced in the body, some of them you can avoid like smoking, others not so much like air pollution, sun exposure. EVEN exercise produces free radicals.

Your mission is to counteract the destruction caused by free radical production and save our cells by choosing foods which provide antioxidants to support our systems.

Super hero veggies

But where do we find antioxidants? Fruits and vegetables are the number one go to source for antioxidants. Eating the right number of servings of fruits and vegetables everyday is the best way to get your antioxidants. Other sources include: whole grains, nut and seeds, coffee, tea and even chocolate.

Here are some examples of nutrients that may function as antioxidants and where you can find them:

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is considered one of the, if not the greatest antioxidant.This is the primary function of the vitamin. Nuts and seeds (especially sunflower seeds!), vegetable oils and avocado are very high in vitamin E.

Vitamin C

Most fruits and vegetables, but especially citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, will give you Vitamin C. Where Vitamin C is concerned, fresher is better, and you don’t want to overcook your veggies because excessive heat and oxygen destroys Vitamin C.

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Vitamin A

Vitamin A has many functions and one may be to act as an antioxidant. Vitamin A is particularly important in keeping eyes and skin healthy. Find Vitamin A in meat, specifically liver, as well as dairy products and fish.

Selenium

Selenium is a mineral that functions as an antioxidant. Brazil nuts are very high in selenium. Meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans and grains products also provide selenium.

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Carotenoids

Carotenoids are a group of compounds that act as antioxidants. They include beta-carotene, lycopene (found in tomoatoes), lutein, and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids are pigments which give colour to many fruits and vegetables dark green, orange, yellow and red. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid may have additional benefits because it is converted to Vitamin A, another antioxidant, in the body.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are another group of compounds, many of which have been shown to have antioxidant properties. Flavonoids are found mainly in berries (especially dark coloured ones like blueberries), onions, apples as well as cocoa (think chocolate!) tea (particularly green tea) and wine.

Antioxidant Supplements

There are many supplemental forms of all of these nutrients available. However, as long as you follow an adequate, balanced and nutritious diet and have all the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, in every colour, you should have no trouble meeting your body’s antioxidant needs and therefore not require supplementation. More research is needed into the validity of antioxidant supplementation. You can have too much of a good thing and some antioxidants, like the fat soluble vitamins A & E can be toxic if you exceed the recommended amount.

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