Whenever I told people in Brazil that I was going to Italy to study the effects of the Mediterranean diet on Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), they were impressed. We all hear about it over there, and it seems like a very fancy diet to follow – something that movie starts would adhere to maintain their physique. But in reality, we can actually learn more about this eating pattern from the Italian nonni (the grandparents) sitting on their balconies watching life and people go by.
The traditional Mediterranean diet is very simple! It is basically what the older generations of people living in Cyprus, Croatia, Spain, Greece, Italy, Morocco and Portugal used to eat about a few decades ago:
- Diet rich in plant foods (cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, tree nuts, seeds, and olives);
- olive oil used as the principal source of added fat;
- high to moderate intakes of fish and seafood;
- moderate consumption of eggs, poultry and dairy products (cheese and yogurt);
- low consumption of red meat;
- moderate intake of alcohol (mainly wine during meals).
And that’s it! By following these recommendations you can lower your risk of developing the metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, some neurodegenerative diseases and cancers 1, and you can also live longer 2.
So, what is so special and different about this diet? This diet is very different of what we call the Western diet – something that is more and more followed around the world. If you take a second look, you will not find highly industrialized products in the Mediterranean diet – no burgers, french fries, chips, cookies, frozen pizza or anything that comes in a package pretty much ready to eat.
The Mediterranean diet is not completely restrictive and it is certainly not meant to take away the pleasure of eating – quite the opposite, actually. Following a Mediterranean diet is supposed to take you back to when people actually gathered in the kitchen to cook meals together, and sat at a table to eat and savor them. Not in front of the TV to munch mindlessly whatever is easily within reach.
“Ain’t nobody got time for that”? We can all agree that life in the 21st century is very different and adaptations are necessary. But that does not mean we cannot make an effort to eat better and live better! It’s an investment in your life. With a bit of careful planning and gradual changes, it gets easier with time.
Here are a few tips to following a Mediterranean diet:
→ Snack on nuts, fruits, and seeds instead of cereal bars, protein shakes, or chips;
→ The more colorful, the better – eat multiple servings of a great variety of vegetables and fruits to ensure intake of vitamins and minerals;
→ Exchange white for whole – for a few cents more, choose whole wheat bread, rice and pasta. The higher fiber content will help you feel fuller faster and you will eat less;
→ Vary your source of protein during the week – prioritize intake of fish, seafood and legumes; then eggs and white meat; then red meat sporadically.
→ Choose foods in season and produced in your country to save money and eat fresher!
So, what does Brazil have to do with the Mediterranean diet? The diet might not be traditional there, but living in Brazil or here in Italy, the Mediterranean diet is available for all. Nowadays, you absolutely don’t have to live in those seven countries to follow these dietary advice. Eat a variety of minimally processed, real food. That you can get anywhere.
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
Follow these links:
Fundación Dieta Mediterranea (website in Spanish or English)
Mediterradiet.org (website in English, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese or Croatian)
Read these references:
- Bach-Faig, A. et al. Mediterranean diet pyramid today. Science and cultural updates. Public Health Nutr. 14, 2274–2284 (2011).
- Trichopoulou, A. et al. Diet and overall survival in elderly people. BMJ 311, 1457–60 (1995).
Raquel (ESR-11) is at the University of Bari – Italy studying lifestyle modifications in the treatment of NAFLD. She was born and raised in Brazil, but has an Italian citizenship from her great-grandparents Italian origins. She is a dietitian and food enthusiast.