Breaking Down The Mediterranean Diet

By Henry Gould – Aug 28th, 2018

Greetings #YardHard faithful! Hope everyone is catching as much late summer sun as possible.

I’ve recently returned from a holiday in Greece and Croatia, which renewed my interest in the so called “Mediterranean Diet”. something I wanted to do a deeper dive on for the purposes of this blog.

The Mediterranean Diet – What is it? 

  • Typically the Mediterranean Diet is a way of eating that is influenced by the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, focused (but not limited to) Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Turkey and Israel

Why is it popular? 

  • Interest in the Mediterranean Diet came about decades ago when people started taking notice of the extremely long lives people living in Mediterranean countries were leading, specifically those along the coast.

What are the health benefits? 

  • You name it! Lowered risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimers – adherence to a Mediterranean Diet has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of all these types of health issues.

What are the major foods of the Mediterranean Diet?

  • Dairy
    • The majority of dairy consumed in a Mediterranean Diet is fermented (cheese, yogurt) rather than unfermented (plain milk). This has the benefit both of adding important probiotic bacteria to the diet, while also reducing the sugar (lactose) content of the dairy through the fermentation process
    • Although “dairy” strictly refers to Cow’s milk, Sheep and Goat’s milk cheese and yogurt are hugely popular in Mediterranean countries, perhaps even more so than Cow’s milk
  • Fish
    • Almost all forms of the Mediterranean Diet involve a sizeable portion of seafood
    • Fish is low in saturated fat and high in all the good fats like Omega-3’s
    • Salmon, mackeral, trout, sea bass, prawns, octopus, tuna, squid, mussels, clams…the list is endless. If you can, try to eat wild seafood whenever possible, at least 1-2 times a week. Fish like tuna should be avoided more than 1-2 times a week due to high levels of mercury, as a result of them being a large apex predator
    • Cooking fish is much simpler than people think, and much quicker. When it doubt, take some tin foil, make a pouch, add your fish along with salt, pepper, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil, then stick under the broiler on a pan and cook for ~5 minutes. Simple and easy.
  • Legumes
    • Beans and lentils are eaten all over the Mediterranean; they’re cheap, nutritious, filling, and extremely good for you.
    • In addition to the fibre, beans like chickpeas, lentils, fava beans, borlotti beans, are all very high in protein as well as other essential minerals
    • On a vegetarian or vegan diet, legumes are essential to adding enough protein to ones diet
    • Canned beans are OK, but dried beans are where it’s at. Typically they need to be soaked overnight, and then boiled and cooked until tender.
    • The fibre in legumes helps maintain a healthy gut biota (the good bacteria eat the fibre) which then promotes a healthy GI tract
  • Vegetables
    • The majority of the Mediterranean Diet centers around vegetables. Meat and fish make up a smaller quotient than our North American diet would be used to, with things like vegetables and legumes filling in the rest.
    • A good balance of cooked and raw vegetables aids in digestion, and allows for more variety in the diet.
    • A favorite dish of mine is “Pisto Manchego” from Spain. For this, you need to go heavy on the olive oil, otherwise it’s just a bland vegetable mush. Spoon it onto bread, or served with a fried egg on top and some sheep’s milk cheese like Manchego.
  • Grains
    • Grains have gotten a bad rap lately, especially from the low carb crowd, and it’s easy to see why. We’ve come to associate all bread as bad, when in reality, a whole grain, naturally leavened loaf of bread is worlds apart from white flour Wonderbread
    • Brown rice, barley, oats, farro and quinoa are all examples of healthy whole grains, good for supplementing any meal with.
    • A “whole” grain refers to it being untreated, so it still retains the endosperm, germ and bran, as opposed to just the inside endosperm (i.e. brown rice vs. white rice)
    • One interesting example is Acquerello Rice, a brand of Carnaroli rice from Italy, which is aged, and has the outside germ and bran removed, but then reintroduced to the grain for better health benefits. If you can find it, this is the Rolls-Royce of risotto rices…
  • Olive Oil
    • Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the lifeblood of Mediterranean cooking; without it, food would be unimaginable.
    • A few rules for EVOO:
      • #1, you get what you pay for. Expensive olive oil is definitely worth the money, but a $20+ bottle shouldn’t be used for cooking unless you’ve got cash to burn. Spain, Italy, and Chile produce great oil at reasonable prices, so use these for cooking, with a second nicer bottle for finishing food like salads, cheese, meat, fish etc.
      • #2, don’t be scared to fry in EVOO. For years, cooking shows instilled fear in their viewers by making them think EVOO would burn and catch fire the second it hit a hot pan. So long as the pan isn’t glowing red, use EVOO with abandon. There’s lots of research showing industrial seed oils like canola and soy promote inflammation and are not good for you, so stick with EVOO
      • #3, Extra Virgin refers to the first pressing of the olives, and is the first oil that comes off. Generally it has more of the good antioxidants and beneficial properties, as well as more flavor and color. “Virgin” refers to the second pressing of the olives and is lighter in color and flavor.

Rules to live by! Eat like this and you’ll be living well into your 100’s….

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