Five ways of reaping the benefits of a Mediterranean diet no matter where you live.
The Mediterranean diet has maintained popularity over the years and is linked with many health benefits including prevention or reversal of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, improved cardiovascular health and reduced risk of stroke, rheumatoid arthritis and Alzheimer's, and improved overall health and longevity. The Mediterranean diet is not only about food; it also includes a way of life that is savoured and enjoyed.
The climate and way of life in the Mediterranean may be different to our own, but how can we make sure that we incorporate these health benefits into our daily lives, and not just for one or two weeks of the year?
Below I have listed 5 things which will hopefully improve your health and wellbeing, while you wait for your next holiday!
1. I know it is easier said than done, but I'll say it anyway - relax! That feeling of wellbeing while on holiday comes from being relaxed. Everything in our body works better when we don't have unnecessary stress hormones calling the shots. Our digestive system, which ensures we get all of those healthy compounds our body needs from food, works optimally when we are relaxed. Enjoy food with friends and family. Take a few deep breaths, get your digestive juices flowing and then start eating.
2. Spend time in nature. We may not have the climate of the Mediterranean but spending time outdoors, in nature (barefoot when possible), has many benefits no matter what the weather is like. Natural light helps to regulate our body clock, so that we have energy during the day and we sleep well at night. This in turn positively effects our immune system, our mood and ability to deal with stress.
3. Eat whole foods and reduce or eliminate processed foods. We have all heard this one before and there is a huge amount of information on the detrimental effects of highly processed food with added sugars and harmful fats. In terms of fruit and vegetables, think of incorporating as much colour as possible onto your plate. By doing this, you will ensure you are getting all those anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and potential health-promoting effects of the colourful compounds. Include healthy fats in the form of olive oil, nuts, seeds and oily fish.
4. Include herbs in your cooking. There was a study published recently about an Italian village where one in eight citizens is over 100 years old, and where they maintain an active and healthy life well in to their old age. One interesting factor was that rosemary was included in their daily diet. Herbs such as rosemary, thyme and oregano have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities and also help to improve digestion and aid brain function. They can be grown in any climate and can be incorporated easily into soups and stews, stocks, tomato sauce or herb breads.
5. Get enough Vitamin D. This 'sunshine' vitamin is produced in your skin in response to sunlight and has many health benefits including the development of healthy bones, fighting depression and supporting our immune system. Exposing our skin to sunlight (without sunscreen) for 10 to 20 minutes a day ensures adequate levels. However, in the months where the sun doesn't make many appearances we need to get Vitamin D from our diet - in oily fish and egg yolks - or through supplementation. Get your Vitamin D levels checked if you are concerned.
Remember that the Mediterranean diet is more than just a diet; it is a way of life. Slow down, think of ways to incorporate relaxation into your life every day and enjoy sharing food and other activities with family and friends.