Living a Mediterranean lifestyle with good food, good friends, and plenty of rest can be the ticket to a longer and healthier life.
Rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, fish and legumes as well as minimal amounts of red meat, highly processed and fried food, refined grains, sugar and saturated fat, the Mediterranean diet has long been linked with improved health.
Yet, it is better to start with simple changes and gradually make the Mediterranean diet part of your lifestyle rather than adopt it all at once. When one change becomes automatic, you can continue adding others.
But a Mediterranean lifestyle is more than just the diet. It also involves eating with loved ones and taking the time to savour food, resting and sleeping enough, maintaining strong social connections, and exercising regularly, according to study published by the US Mayo Clinic.
Switching to a Mediterranean lifestyle can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, minimise the effects of stress, lower cancer risk and recurrence, decrease the risk of Type 2 Diabetes and complications, slow cognitive decline, and promote bone density, according to a new study.
Here are some steps that you can take to adopt a Mediterranean lifestyle for a healthier and longer life:
Use extra virgin olive oil:
Replacing saturated fats with extra virgin olive oil and other mono- and polyunsaturated fats can have a significant impact on your health. Try avocado as a sandwich spread and snack on a handful of almonds.
Increase plant-based foods:
Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. These should be part of your daily meals. Legumes are a good source of protein and contain various nutrients, making them ideal for vegetarian meals.
Reduce the use of salt:
An excessive salt intake can affect your health and especially your cardiovascular health. You can add flavour to your meals by replacing salt with various herbs and spices like garlic, oregano, turmeric, onion, cumin, basil, pepper, rosemary, parsley or cinnamon, among other Mediterranean cooking herbs and spices. These contain an abundance of antioxidants while adding minimal or zero calories and salt.
Eat minimally processed foods:
Take advantage of in-season fresh local products. These are often now at their peak in terms of nutrients, aroma, and flavour.
Enjoy moderate amounts of dairy products:
Dairy products are an excellent source of protein, minerals, and vitamins. The fermentation process of making cheese and yoghurt can add the health benefits of probiotics. Try moderate amounts of products like plain or Greek yoghurt and cheeses such as feta and Parmesan.
Replace meat with fish twice a week:
Replacing meat with fish can reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids. These are crucial for the health of the body and brain.
Get your protein the Mediterranean way:
Opt for nuts, beans, eggs, poultry, and fish, with small amounts of lean cuts of meat. Avoid fatty cuts to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet.
Substitute dessert with fresh or dried fruit:
End your meals with a piece of fruit or a small handful of dried fruit to satisfy that sweet tooth without adding excessive amounts of sugar to your body.
Eliminate fast food:
Swap your fast-food meals with homemade ones. Fast foods and prepared meals can cause weight gain and other health issues. They also often contain excessive salt, fat, and hidden sugars.
Drink plenty of water:
Water is by far the best way to stay hydrated. Opt for water rather than sodas or energy and other sugary drinks.
Be active and social:
Maintaining strong social connections and being physically active are key parts of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Walking with a friend or sharing meals with family and friends can improve your mood, which in turn can help your general health and well-being.
Get enough sleep:
Resting is a key feature of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Regular short mid-afternoon naps as well as prioritising sleeping six to eight hours at night can positively affect your health.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 7 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly