Diet blog: Mediterranean medicine

Judith Wills / 03 May 2016

Study after study backs up the health benefits of the Mediterranean way of eating, so here's how to incorporate it into a British diet.



The news widely reported recently that a Mediterranean diet is the one to go for if you want to avoid heart attacks or stroke may seem somewhat like old hat news – after all, the Med diet has been promoted as being one of the most healthy ways to eat in the world for many years now – but the research behind it is novel in two ways.

Related: 10 healthy Mediterranean foods

First, the global study of over 15,000 people which was published in the European Heart Journal was carried out on people already suffering from heart disease, rather than on people looking for ways to help prevent heart disease. 

And second, the researchers conclusion was this:  ‘Greater consumption of healthy foods may be more important for secondary prevention of coronary artery disease than avoidance of less healthy foods typical of Western diets.’

For what the researchers had found was that those studied could eat, in moderation, the types of foods we’ve long been told to avoid for good health – the biscuits, cakes, white bread, and fried foods that can be broadly classified as ‘junk’ – as long as they also ate a diet high in typical Mediterranean foods such as fruit, vegetables, fish, healthy oil, wholegrains, pulses and herbs – oh, and a bit of alcohol.

Related: The truth behind the scare stories about nine nutritious foods

I think that is excellent news.  And it is more or less how I’ve been eating for years, and how I love to eat.  I adore all the healthy Med-style foods and meals, but I can and will also indulge in crisps, cake, chocolate, a full English and a bit of steak.  Not all the time, and not in great quantity, but just enough for me to feel slightly wicked, which suits me well.

Husband is also revelling in the news as last year he was hospitalised and then put on a variety of pills to help prevent him having a heart attack or stroke.  We both also needed to lose a bit of weight and we’ve found that doing Mediterranean all week and then having a few treats of the British variety at the weekend has worked very well.

Related: Old-fashioned British superfoods

We find the Med diet couple with simple portion size control a great way to lose weight slowly and enjoyably and what could be better than that?  Such a diet has also been found to help protect us against other illnesses and diseases such as diabetes, some cancers and inflammatory conditions so it’s well worth giving it a try.  And now summer is, supposedly, nearly here, this is a great time of year to give it a go.

If you would like to incorporate more Mediterranean-style foods into your meals and your life, and make the most of what they have to offer, here are some tips:

Make each plate of food as colourful as you can – a variety of vegetables/salad-stuff and/or fruit will achieve this.  If the plate looks white you’re not eating right!

Related: Eat the rainbow - discover the health benefits of colourful foods

Develop your taste for garlic, a classic Med ingredient.  Crush the cloves and add them to soups, stews, salad dressings and sauces. 

Try adding a variety of ‘soft’ fresh herbs to your salads – basil, coriander, mint, tarragon, chervil can all be torn or sliced and tossed into a leaf or mixed salad.

Related: The health benefits of herbs

Make sure to get your oily fish at least 2-3 times a week.  Salmon is fine but think about sardines, herrings, mackerel which are much used in the Med and very tasty (see the recipe below, it’s delicious and versions are very popular both in Italy and Greece).

Related: 10 healthy reasons to eat more fish

Try cheese the Med way – use a strong one like Feta which so you don’t need to use much, and simply sprinkle it on a salad or toss it with olive oil and vegetables.

Get healthy pulses such as borlotti or cannellini beans into your diet by adding them to vegetable soups and stews – ribollita from Italy is perhaps the healthiest and tastiest hearty soup ever invented!  Or mash them with a bit of garlic, olive oil and lemon for a quick alternative to supermarket hummus.

Related: Try this white bean, kale and pumpkin soup recipe

Serve your Mediterranean vegetables eg tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, properly ripe and at room temperature for maximum flavour and goodness.

Judith Wills' butterflied sardines

Baked Sardines with Pine Nuts and Sultanas

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 4-8 (depending on size) ready prepared butterflied fresh sardines*
  • 25g coarse wholemeal breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and well crushed
  • 3 tbsp sultanas
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp salt

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180C.  Stir the breadcrumbs in a little of the olive oil in a small non-stick frying pan over medium high heat for a couple of minutes or until very lightly golden, set aside.  Arrange the sardines (* butterflied is best so that they are flat as in the photo – you can buy them ready butterflied or a fishmonger will do it for you) in a shallow baking dish.  In a small bowl, mix together the rest of the oil, the pine nuts, garlic, sultanas, parsley, lemon juice, pepper and salt then drizzle this mix over the sardines, lifting them a bit so that the mix gets underneath as well. Scatter the breadcrumbs on the top and bake for 15 minutes or until the fish are cooked through.  Serve with a large mixed leaf and herb side salad. 

Related: Want to keep this recipe handy? Bookmark our recipe page for Baked Sardines with Pine Nuts and Sultanas

 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.