A hearty diet, the Mediterranean way

olive tree

Given the year we have all had, and with winter now upon us, the Mediterranean seems a long way away.  Warm seas, a gentle climate and one of the best diets in the world is some stretch from what many of us are experiencing and the kind of comfort eating we might well be craving.  However, as we approach the Christmas season, and our thinking turns to mince pies, Christmas pudding and turkey, it is even more important that we consider our diet and the benefits of following the Mediterranean lead.

A recent study out of Ben-Gurion University in Israel has shown that the right diet will not only help keep your weight down, it can also improve metabolic health and cholesterol levels.  The findings, published in medical journal Heart, showed that people who followed a ‘green’ Mediterranean diet, rich in healthy fats and green vegetables, and replacing red meat with fish and poultry, had noticeably better health after six months.

The study took 300 overweight people and split them into three groups.  The first group was given general advice on improving their diet and lifestyle; the second group was given a standard Mediterranean diet to follow, and the third was given an enhanced ‘green’ Mediterranean diet that not only restricted calorie intake but also increased consumption of vegetables, green tea and plant called duckweed, taken as a protein shake. 

The findings were clear.  After six months those participants who had followed the green Mediterranean diet had lost an average 6.2kg, those following the simple Mediterranean diet lost 5.4kg, and those who simply followed the ‘healthy eating’ diet lost just 1.5kg.  These differences were reflected across changes to waistlines and in measurements of insulin resistance, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Nutritional therapist Julie Clark explained that changes to our eating habits don’t have to be complicated to have serious benefits: “Despite all of the different views and opinions on diets, one we can all agree on is that highly processed foods should be decreased and our intake of vegetables should be increased.  Plants offer us an abundance of vital nutrients needed for our bodies to function at optimal levels. We really do have the power to change our health trajectory by the foods we put on our forks and into our mouths.”

Clearly more work needs to be done on this area.  At this point, the scientists from Ben-Gurion University can’t say which element of the diet, be it the switch from red meat to fish and poultry, the increased consumption of green tea or the use of duckweed as a protein shake, had the most positive impact on health.  These answers will no doubt come over time.  But whether it is one particular element or a combination of all three that is most beneficial to health, we can all make simple changes to what we eat that can have a significant benefit. 

As Julie said: “As a Registered Nutritional Therapist, the most common piece of advice I often give people is - just eat more vegetables!”