The Mediterranean diet is a healthy eating plan to reduce your risk of heart disease, and other chronic diseases including cancer
Much attention has been focused on the dietary foods common to the Mediterranean countries including Italy, Greece and the Middle East, where heart disease is less prevalent than in North America, Australia and New Zealand. The Mediterranean diet is praised for its high consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, moderate red wine, dark chocolate and cold pressed olive oil. Many of these ingredients are found to be beneficial for reducing risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. Nuts, legumes, plant foods and some whole grains are healthy sources of dietary fibre necessary for healthy bowel function, managing healthy cholesterol and hormone levels as well as reducing inflammation. According to a Tulane University, New Orleans study involving more than 9,700 subjects, it was found that increased intake of soluble fibre significantly reduced risk of Coronary artery disease as well as cardiac events. Heart Disease News, June 2007.
It is not so much a diet as a lifestyle approach to eating. The key components then are:
- Eating a generous amount of vegetables and fruits multi-coloured that are high in antioxidants and other phytonutrients
- Consuming healthy fats such as cold pressed virgin olive oil, flax oil. Avocado oil, nuts and seeds
- Consuming very little red meat and then only grass fed such as we have in New Zealand.
- Eating fish on a regular basis including the oily fish such as sardines, tuna and salmon- the salmon must be wild not farmed. Caution with mercury levels- see Anti-inflammatory Food Guide.
- Small amounts of whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats and millet
- Soluble and insoluble fibre such as kiwi fruit, figs, flax fibre, LSA, psyllium, nuts and seeds
- Herbs and spices- Many herbs and spices used in Mediterranean and Asian diets assist in the reduction cardiovascular risk and are shown the ability to inhibit AGE formation (advanced glycated end-products), which occur with the long term damage from high glucose levels in the blood. Extracts of ginger, cinnamon and cumin were most effective, while black pepper, green tea, apple, basil and lemon extracts showed moderate effect.
- Other substances that protect against damage from high sugar levels are: Lycopene found in cooked tomatoes, pink grapefruit, resveratrol found in red grapes/ red wine, turmeric, rosemary, quercetin and rutin found in onions, garlic and citrus as well as alpha lipoic acid.
The focus of the Mediterranean diet is to choose healthy fats, monosaturated and high in omega 3 essential fatty acids: wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, cod, cold pressed virgin olive oil and healthy polyunsaturated oils found in avocados , nuts and seeds- particularly walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts and almonds, chia seeds, flax seed, pumpkin seed.
Moderate consumption of grass fed red meats, free range organic chicken, virgin coconut oil and ghee.
Avoiding all trans fats found in margarines, vegetable cooking oils and any packaged baking products muesli bars, snack foods etc containing hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils.
One of the main reasons why hydrogenated fats are so detrimental to your health is that they are prone to oxidation or damage which in turn causes damage to your cells. This increases the ageing process and progression of chronic disease.
Vegetables, Fruits and Grains
The Mediterranean diet traditionally includes vegetables and fruits, up to 9 servings per day and small quantities of grains such as rice and pasta. The diet is associated with lower levels of oxidised cholesterol and an increase in the healthy cholesterol HDL. Grains are typically whole grain including bread which is generally home baked.
Most commercial breads today are devoid of nutrients and the wheat and gluten are often a problem for many people. It is healthier to stick to whole grains with reduced amounts of whole grain breads or the sprouted breads you can purchase in health food shops.
Red Wine/red grapes
The Mediterranean diet typically allows moderate intake of red wine, which does contain resveratrol and other polyphenols that have antioxidant protection
A high intake of polyphenols is likely to have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system.Red wine is a rich source of polyphenols, shown to upregulate eNOS, a protective enzyme in the cardiovascular system.
However since any alcohol is a toxin to the liver must be consumed moderately and for those with hormone cancers such as breast cancer limited to the occasional glass or not at all.
A 2004 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol 286, No 17: 2143 – 2151) reviewed recent research on the question of alcohol and breast cancer risk. After reviewing studies using different populations from around the world, from 1977 onwards, they found that there is consistent evidence that breast cancer risk is higher amongst women consuming moderate to high levels of alcohol (three or more drinks daily) compared with abstainers.
Putting this all into action:
- Eat natural nut butters such as almond, sesame, cashew or peanut instead of butter.
- Use butter sparingly and only if fresh
- Avoid all margarines and vegetable cooking oils
- Use only cold pressed virgin olive oil, flax oil for salads and cooking or add a touch to steamed vegetables for flavour with garlic, onions and fresh herbs
- Eat a large variety of red, orange, green, blue and purple fruit and vegetables- at least 9 servings per day.
- Eat red meat and poultry sparingly and only grass fed and free range
- Avoid any processed meats such as bacon or sausage
- Eat fish at least twice or more per week- good choices with high omega 3 are wild salmon, tuna, cod, mackerel, sardines- garnish with pesto sauce ( see recipe on p), herbs, lemon and garlic
- Keep walnuts, almonds, pecans, brazil nuts or hazelnuts on hand for quick snack
- Have 1 glass of red wine 2-3 times per week with meal if no liver problems or history of breast cancer. If you do not drink alcohol do not start- try glass of organic natural grape juice instead
- Enjoy a few pieces of quality dark chocolate at least 70% cocoa
- Two supplements that are of value is Vitamin C up from 2-6000mg per day and Omega 3 Fish oil 3000mg per day
- Drink Pomegranate Juice
"pomegranate juice also significantly reduced the size of arterial plaque both in human subjects and mice. Nineteen patients from 65 to 75 years of age with severe carotid artery stenosis (70 to 90 percent occlusion) were given 50 ml of concentrated, pasteurized pomegranate juice daily. This concentrate was equivalent to about 250 mls of 100% pomegranate juice. After one year the mean carotid artery thickness was reduced by 35%"
A Mediterranean diet is an Anti-Inflammatory diet. The Anti-inflammatory Food Guide is available through the website www.betterbalance.co.nz
1. "Anti-inflammatory Effects of Mediterranean Diet" Proc Nutr Soc 2010 Aug; 69 (3) 333-40
Enjoy a POLYMEAL:
Grilled wild salmon with onion and garlic served with homemade tomato sauce with basil or coriander
Salad with spinach, lettuce, celery, tomato, capsicum, mushroom, avocado, sprouts, slivered almonds, red onion with a dressing of cold pressed virgin olive oil, organic apple cider or balsalmic vinegar, chopped garlic and fresh herbs- coriander, basil, parsley, marjoram
Green tea or small glass of pinot noir with meal or a glass of pomegranate juice.
Dessert: fresh blueberries, strawberries with a dark chocolate sauce made with rice or almond milk or just a piece on the side
1. "Anti-inflammatory Effects of the Mediterranean Diet" Proc Nutr Soc 2010 Aug: 69 (3) 333-40