Having spent the best part of the last 25 years cooking in professional kitchens I had my fair share of guest requests of dietary requirements. Learn more…
From low salt to low calories, low carbs to high proteins. Especially in the last decade, there has been an increase in so-called diets that are designed to shock the system in order to achieve quick results.
The term diet is therefore misused as it had originally a different meaning, in fact derives from the Latin “Diaeta” which meant “Lifestyle”
Lifestyle, that’s a completely different level of commitment to our well-being.
I am not a doctor or a dietitian, but I live and breathe food, obviously, I am interested in flavor but also in the benefits of a balanced diet.
In my opinion, humans are built to be omnivorous not carnivorous or herbivorous, this is evident in our teeth shape and our digestive system.
What about vegans or vegetarians you might ask? Well… the fact that you can survive avoiding one or more food groups doesn’t mean that you are making your life easy. In fact is quite complex to eat enough protein, it will require a lot more planning and commitment.
Based on my experience, perhaps because I am Italian, the best and most balanced diet is the Mediterranean Diet.
Finally, as I see it, is the only diet that is actually a lifestyle. Mediterranean lifestyle has been around for thousands of years but is not thousands of years old.
In addition to this, the Mediterranean diet is always embracing new ingredients. The most influential were probably tomatoes and potatoes coming from the New World, together with rice and spices from India.
You can find many studies and research to show the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.
Reduction of heart diseases and cancer is the most common one. On the other hand, I am a chef and not a doctor I prefer to focus on the benefits of flavour and happiness that good food and a healthy lifestyle create
A good way to explain how this lifestyle works is to look at the Mediterranean food guide pyramid above.
Like a real pyramid, there are decreasing blocks to the top representing the percentage and recurrence of the food group consumption.
The foundation keeping the whole pyramid up is daily physical activity. This doesn’t mean spending hours at the gym every day, but simple staff. Dance if you enjoy it, walk or cycle to work, at least step out of the bus a few stops before destination and walk the rest.
Daily physical activities could also involve playing sports or going for swim. Involve the whole family in a friendly ball game!
Get your children engaged and involved from an early age, as you are setting a foundation to their lifestyle basis, too.
What can be better than going for a run by the beach at the sun rise!
Whole Grains, Bread, Beans, Pasta and Nuts
Daily servings of legumes such as beans, lentils, and peas, and whole grains such as Bulgar wheat or barley are very important for your energy levels.
In my house in Italy, we eat a handful of pasta for lunch and dinner, followed by vegetables and animal protein or dairy products. Some of the recipes that may interest you:
Gluten intolerant people might be quite sceptical, however there many substitutions you can choose from which are commonly available in our society:
- Gluten Free Pasta – Italy’s Number 1 Brand is Barilla, try out for yourself!
- Gluten Free Bread
- Buckwheat (my wife’s favourite, as she has grown up on it!)
- Brown Rice
The list goes on, this is just to show you – if you one of unfortunate people with Coeliac decease there is still plenty of alternatives and you can still benefit from Mediterranean Diet!
Fruit and Vegetables
Obviously, as you can see Mediterranean lifestyle consists majority of plant-based diet:
Vegetables and Fruit contain high Antioxidants which help your body recover oxygen in your cells. The majority of people in the Mediterranean eat 5-10 servings of fruit and veg a day.
For example, for dinner, you could have a fillet of sea bass with salad, together with a couple of sides.
Mediterranean lifestyle is all about food benefiting your health, check out our selection of easy and quick-to-prepare side dishes:
Besides, for dessert, you can make a lovely fruit salad with a number of fruits from your basket which everyone will enjoy, and eliminate sugary snacks.
Vegetables and Fruit are full of vitamins and nutrients that your body needs, there is no need for supplements.
Just a good balanced Diet!
Remember to make good use of fresh herbs and spices, this will reduce naturally the amount of salt needed in the food.
Choose natural plant-based fats like Olive oil, Avocado, and certain nuts like Coconut oil.
The high percentage of natural fats found in the Mediterranean Diet is associated with :
- Lower risk of heart disease
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Decreased inflammation in the body
- Better insulin function and blood sugar control
I would avoid deep frying in olive oil and prefer to use a single-seed oil like Sunflower Oil.
Note: Avoid hydrogenated fats like margarine because even though most of t them are oil-based they increase your bad cholesterol levels.
Fish and Sea Food
Going up the pyramid, there is the first animal group: fish and seafood.
Should be consumed 3/4 times per week.
If you live close to the coast, try to get up early in the morning once or twice per week and go to your local harbor to buy the fish. Locally caught fish does not compare to the supermarket’s frozen or vacuum-packed products.
My grandfather always told me how to tell if the fish is fresh or not by smell. If the fish is fresh it will not give out a fishy outdoor and your hands will not smell after touching it.
In particular, I would recommend oily fish:
Which are a source and contain high Omega 3 – polyunsaturated fatty acids.
In particular have been shown to reduce inflammation and potentially lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, and arthritis.
Seafood is delicious and comes in many shapes and forms, our family favorites are octopus, prawns, clams, and calamari.
I cannot resist Spaghetti alle Vongole! Just imagine sitting by the sea, eating freshly fished clams in humble garlic, chili, and parsley sauce! Amazing raw, organic ingredients enhance the flavor of the clams, but not overpowering.
That’s what I call a Mediterranean lifestyle – a simple diet made out of fresh food!
There are so many ways you can cook seafood! Above all, it is great for BBQ or simply grill! If you have a little more time on your hands, make a delicious pasta sauce or a risotto!
Eggs, Cheese, Yogurt and White Meat
Dairy products are a source of calcium and should be consumed 2-3 servings per week.
Think about the portion size, a serving would consist of :
- A glass of milk
- 1 yogurt
- 1 slice of cheese
Limitation is a key, even though dairy products are good sources of calcium they contain animal fat.
Enjoy a lovely Frittata with peas, onions, and ricotta cheese! Make it for the whole family during breakfast or brunch, and serve it with a side of salad or spinach!
A few grams of Parmesan cheese on your pasta does not seem like a lot…Furthermore, Parmesan cheese is made out of 1000 l of milk which produces only 50 kg of cheese.
White meats and eggs should be consumed 1-2 per week.
Eggs – 2 per week
White meat like:
Lean source of protein which gives you energy and help to build muscle.
Vegetables, legumes and nuts contain protein as well, therefore you will get plenty of protein without putting your bad cholesterol levels at risk.
Red Meat and Sweets
We are coming up to the pinnacle of the pyramid and food groups which should be avoided on a daily basis and consumed only during special occasions or monthly.
Red Meat – consume small portions of it and use it as a side dish, on the other hand, don’t make it the main dish on your table.
Think about quality and not quantity, spend a little bit more money and get a prime cut of organic, free-range piece of meat.
The flavor will over power your pallet and you will not be able to consume as much of it as.
It should be noted: that reducing red meat intake from your lifestyle will limit the intake of saturated fats and omega-6 – fatty acids.
Desserts or what I like to call ‘ Guilty Pleasures’ – limited to monthly intake only.
Who can resist an Italian Gelatto on a hot summer day? – Not my daughter!
- homemade ice lolly – made out of fresh fruit
- Fruit Salad
- Ricotta cheese dessert with a spoon of honey or jam (add fruit and nuts for more flavor)
Obviously, supporting your lifestyle requires drinking plenty of water daily and a glass of VINO!
Yes, it is actually recommended a daily glass of red wine for women and two for men (normal size glass, I checked). Red wine contains special nutrients that are shown to be heart-healthy (always in moderation).
Along with food groups, I would like to point your attention point to the quality and freshness of the ingredients.
I recommend sourcing good authentic dry ingredients, beans, legumes, spices, pasta, rice salt, etc.
Go shopping to your local farmers market for seasonal produce.
Moreover, grow your own vegetables and fruit. Even if you have limited outside space you can plant them in the vases and you don’t need a whole plantation. A couple of bushes of tomatoes, 2 cucumber plants, and 4/5 bushes of strawberries will get your children curious and feed your family during the summer months.
When it comes to fresh, fruit, vegetable fish, and meat please do not try to buy imported foods coming from the other side of the world, instead buy fresh, seasonal, local food.
Weigh Loss with Mediterranean Diet
Some may say that the Mediterranean diet is very carbohydrate-based and therefore not ideal for losing weight. If you want to shave a few kilos per week before the holiday then yes, this diet is not for you.
To lose weight with a Mediterranean diet is possible, by including more physical activities, and eliminating processed foods which are rich in salt, sugar, and preservatives.
This article is not about how to lose weight, that’s just a benefit. I am talking about a lifestyle that can maintain your well-being!
In particular, how to create and follow a nutritious balance without eliminations, while eating naturally amazing food!
On the contrary, most carbs come from wholemeal cereals, fruit, and veggies – which are also called fibers. Our digestive system can not break down fibers into energy. Furthermore – Fibres support our digestive and immune systems, they cannot be stored! Therefore, daily servings of highly rich fiber food are very important to our diet and well-being.
Nevertheless, Mediterranean diet is not a handful of recipes to follow. I love this lifestyle because it can be so versatile and simple:
- Remember you food groups and quantities!
- Source or grow high quality ingredient!
- Focus on the raw, organic flavours!
- Enjoy your lifestyle and your family!
- Don’t forget to drink plenty of water!
- A glass of red wine!
- Daily physical activities like walking, riding a bike, playing a game or go dancing!
I understand the life is stressful and full of responsibilities! It appears there is no time to cook a meal or go to the park.
I urge you to give a Mediterranean Diet 2 weeks and see the difference in your health and energy levels!
Follow simple guidelines above and you will see the difference in your energy levels! I am sure most of you have followed a diet for one or two weeks before, however this is something different. A lifestyle which you can be adopt to suit your life and the whole family can benefit from.
You can adopt fantastic, healthy life habits and with your food choices you defiantly will not be bored. Mediterranean Lifestyle cares about your whole body in the long ran. This is not a quick fix diet plan which most likely, results in more weight gain then loss.
In my case we have 2 full time jobs, a child who needs dropping off and picking up from school, additionally the house and garden needs looking after. We make a choice to spend at least once a week all together in the nature, breathing fresh air….. it can be found anywhere!
Me and Marina both cook meals at home, you might think because I am a chef it takes me less time. Obviously not, most of the time it takes less time to cook from scratch, rather then warm up a meal! In my recipes section I give clear and easy to follow instructions, please cook the dishes and share your experience.
I sincerely hope this article is given you a different choice or enhanced your believes about Mediterranean Lifestyle.
Check out our family recipes for great examples of seasonal dishes which are easy to make and taste delicious!