Why I’m a fan of the Mediterrasian Diet

  • 10 Apr 2017
  • Reading time 12 mins
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For every disease that exists there’s a country that doesn’t have it. I’ve been studying which countries have the lowest rates of which diseases, and why, to help inform about what the optimal diet really is.

Overall, Thailand, rural China and Japan and other Far East countries do well. For example, rates of breast and prostate cancer are strikingly low. India reports low rates of certain diseases, but high rates of others. It has a high rate of blindness due to lack of vitamin A and DHA from fish. Some parts of the Mediterranean do well too, but this too is changing. Greece, for example, has a very high rate of obesity among men, comparable to the US. A Mediterranean style diet has been linked to lower rates of cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s – and longer telomeres, according to a study in the British Medical Journal.

It is always hard to tease out what exactly in the diet and lifestyle can explain the differences but overall countries that do better have:

  • More vegetarian and fish protein
  • More vegetables and fresh fruits
  • Less wheat, more rice
  • Less sugar and less carbohydrates overall
  • Less refined foods, more wholefoods
  • More legumes – beans and lentils
  • More nuts and seeds

Total calorie intake, and exercise, contributing to obesity are also a factor. But there are also local ‘hero’ foods, herbs and spices that add specific health benefits that are not a staple part of the Western diet, but well worth including. Adding these into your dietary repertoire can give you the full benefits of a Mediterrasian style diet.

These include:

Take a look at those you rarely use or have never heard of and I’ll show you how to incorporate them into delicious daily recipes.

Variety is the spice of life and if you’re bored making the same old dishes these ingredients are widely used in the recipes in Delicious, Healthy Sugar-Free. The more you can include these foods in your diet the healthier you are going to be.

ARTICHOKES: For centuries the artichoke has been used to help detoxify the body and cleanse the blood. Today it is known to improve gall bladder secretions and boost liver function, so it’s ideal if you have overindulged in fatty foods or alcohol. Marinated artichokes in olive oil are a delicious addition to Mediterranean salads and antipasti dishes.

BASIL: This fragrant herb helps digestion, so scatter a few roughly torn leaves over a salad or enjoy it in pesto. Basil also contains vitamin C and has high levels of the group of antioxidants called carotenoids, including beta-carotene, which the body then converts to vitamin A.

CHICKPEAS: Also known as garbanzos, chickpeas are a type of pulse and a common ingredient in many Middle Eastern dishes, including hummus and falafel. A good source of insoluble fibre to aid digestion, they are also rich in folate and the mineral molybdenum, which helps the body detoxify sulphites, a common preservative added to foods such dried fruit and wine.

CHILLI: This hot spice is packed with vitamins A and C, both of which are powerful antioxidants and immune system boosters. In fact, chillies contain more vitamin C than citrus fruits. Of course, it’s hard to eat as much. To get all the flavour but less heat, remove the white seeds and membranes. Chilli has been associated with reducing congestion and with pain relief, as well as with aiding digestion. Contrary to public opinion is doesn’t increase acid levels in the stomach.

CINNAMON: The bark of the cinnamon tree is available in its dried tubular form, known as a quill, or as ground powder. The essential oils in this warming, sweet spice have been found to contain active components called methylhydroxy chalcone polymers (MCHP) which have anti-blood clotting actions, reduce inflammation, inhibit the growth of bacteria and yeasts, and help blood sugar control. Aim for half a teaspoon a day however, if you have blood sugar issues and sugar cravings supplement a concentrated ‘Cinnulin®’ extract with ten times the MCHP, together with chromium.

COCONUT: The flesh and milk of the coconut are used in many Indian dishes. It is also a traditional remedy, due largely to its high lauric acid content, which is antibacterial and antiviral. Though coconut oil is very high in saturated fat, this is a plant-based ‘medium chain triglyceride (MCT) saturated fat, which is more easily used as energy rather than being stored as fat in the body, like animal fats. Being saturated, it is also very stable and isn’t easily damaged by the cooking process to form harmful free radicals. You can stir fry with coconut oil and use coconut milk or cream in soups. There are many coconut inspired alternatives these days, from yoghurt to ice-cream, But don't be fooled by coconut sugar. It was falsely claimed to be low GI but is basically fructose. It is widely used in both India and Thailand.

CORIANDER: Thai cooking makes use of all parts of the coriander plant, not just the leaves (used as garnish and main ingredient in Greek tabouleh salad) but also the roots (pounded with garlic to form a paste) and seeds (roasted, ground and used in marinades). Coriander is a good digestive aid.

GALANGAL: Similar in appearance to ginger, galangal provides a distinctive flavour and aroma in Far Eastern cuisine. Frequently featuring in fish and shellfish recipes, often with garlic, ginger, chilli and lemon or tamarind, you can find it in Oriental grocery stores. It is thought to improve digestion and reduce wind, help nausea, reduce ......

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