Olive oil is of course a staple part of the diet, providing healthy monounsaturated fats and believed to be one of the secrets to the superior health of the Mediterranean people. In particular, olive oil is a rich source of a fatty acid called oleic acid, which has potent anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation is involved in both ageing and many diseases, so reducing it has anti-ageing benefits. Extra virgin olive oil is also rich in antioxidants, which have further anti-inflammatory properties, as well as protecting against oxidative damage in the body. Choosing cold-pressed olive oil and eating some of it raw, on salads for example, will ensure the highest antioxidant dose. Olive oil consumption is linked to a range of advantages including a healthy heart and a reduced risk of depression and Alzheimer’s.
- Olive oil is also a wonderful ingredient for homemade beauty products, such as hair and facemasks and a fantastic natural body oil for both adults adults and babies. It is packed with vitamin E and antioxidants and is extremely nourishing and moisturising for your skin and hair.
Being near the Mediterranean Sea, the inhabitants of this region are traditionally fish eaters. Fish, especially of the oily variety, is our number one dietary source of long chain omega-3 fatty acids, which are an elixir for health, beauty and anti-ageing. They have potent anti-inflammatory effects, protecting those parts of the body most affected by ageing (eyes, brain, heart, joints etc.), as well as being a wonderful moisturiser and conditioner for the skin and hair. Fish and seafood are also a fantastic protein source and provide important nutrients such as zinc and selenium. There is another less well-know anti-ageing ‘hero’ found in pink fish such as salmon, called astaxanthin. Its effects include reducing inflammation, boosting the immune system, improving clarity of thinking, reducing wrinkles and improving skin elasticity.
Our Mediterranean cousins have not only got the fruit and veg portions nailed, but are also including plenty of other plant super-foods in their daily diets, such as nuts, seeds, pulses and wholegrains. Nuts for example, form an integral part of the diet and have both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which give them anti-ageing powers. Regular consumption is linked with lower cholesterol, reduced diabetes risk and lower body weight. Pulses and wholegrains also feature regularly in Mediterranean cuisine and are just as beneficial for health. Pasta and bread are of course very popular, but are eaten alongside plenty of lentils, beans and other wholegrains such as barley, farro (an Italian variety of spelt), wholewheat berries, polenta, oats and buckwheat.
*A note on Bread
Bread and pasta have been unfairly labelled as ‘bad’ or ‘fattening’ foods in recent years. They are however a staple in many healthy populations, including the mediterraneans . Freshly baked wholeweat bread dipped in olive oil (instead of butter or margarine) is actually very nutritious and unless you have an allergy to wheat, gluten sensitivity or are coeliac will not cause any issues if eaten as part of a balanced diet. For more information see here.
Meat, Dairy and Eggs
Meat, dairy and eggs are eaten in small amounts and in their most natural unprocessed forms. Fresh cheeses, many of which are naturally low in fat, such as ricotta, feta and mozzarella are eaten in sensible quantities and provide a great source of protein and calcium. Sheep’s and goats dairy are also more common, as well as yoghurt, which is a super source of natural probiotics for a healthy gut. Meat tends to be less processed and eaten only a few times per month, instead of daily. A traditional Mediterranean diet is low in processed foods in general, with meals being home-cooked and made from natural, fresh ingredients.
Moderation, Balance and Love
One of the wonderful features of the Mediterranean way of eating is that it includes all the food groups, no foods are ‘banned’ and moderation and balance are key. Red wine for example is taken with meals in small amounts and is linked with various benefits, such as lower blood pressure, when consumed in moderation. Food is viewed as a pleasure, meals are an occasion and eating as a family is still very much part of the culture. Eating this way is associated with improved health outcomes, better food choices and consuming fewer calories, when compared to eating alone, on the move or in front of the TV. The sense of community this brings is also known to reduce stress levels and enhance overall wellbeing.
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