By Sarah Smith of Bayside Dietetics
Facebook Bayside Dietetics
How’s this to capture the attention of anyone wanting to live healthier and longer: In 2017, Greek-born Australians had a median age at death of 83.4 years compared with 81.4 for Australians born here, while enjoying a significantly lower mortality rate from all major diseases. This was cited in The Weekend Australian (September 4-5, 2021). The article went on to describe a link between the Mediterranean diet followed by Greek-born Australians, in contrast to those that follow the typical Australian diet.
While there are plenty of factors that may contribute to this statistic, there will be curious people reading this who would like to pick up some tips on how to eat to live longer and healthier through food. The Mediterranean way of eating is a great approach as it promotes self-care through doing something, rather than restricting something. For example, it includes plenty of fresh vegetables, but it doesn’t come with a rule to say that you have to eat the vegetables sideways, after 6pm but not later than 8pm, matched with an expensive grapefruit turmeric tea. Thus, incorporating Mediterranean habits, may provide plenty of families with a realistic and sustainable way to approach the way they eat.
Here are five tips that pick up some key features of Mediterranean eating.
Cook at home a little more often.
Home cooking is often described as a key way to be healthier (https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/is-cooking-at-home-associated-with-better-diet-quality-or-weightloss-intention/B2C8C168FFA377DD2880A217DB6AF26F).
While back in the 1950s, society was set up to prioritise a home cooked meal, these days there isn’t a one-size fits all approach. For busy families, the key may be in making use of the array of convenience options available, such as meal kit delivery (think Marley Spoon and Hello Fresh), or using pre-cut kits now readily available at supermarkets.
Increase fresh fruit and vegetables.
A client of mine really wanted to increase her vegetable intake but struggled to make it happen. One day she came bouncing into my rooms, delighted that she’d finally started eating fresh vegetables a couple of times a day. The key for her: She’d found a local grocer that delivered a box to her weekly, without any need for her to make any effort. Simply having the vegetables in the fridge was enough to change it from an idea to a habit.
Have a tin of beans or chickpeas or lentils on hand to add to meals.
Legumes such as chickpeas, butter beans, kidney beans and lentils are a regular part of Mediterranean eating. An easy way to increase legumes in Australia is to use tinned legumes, as there isn’t any preparation. You can simply open can, rinse and drain, then add to your meal. Favourite options reported to me by clients are:
A tin of chickpeas added to Apricot Chicken.
A tin of lentils to bolognaise sauce for lasagne or spaghetti.
A tin of black beans added to Mexican burritos.
A tin of four bean mix added to quinoa and dressing for a lunchtime meal.
When using legumes, you can include meat or chicken as usual, or you can try using legumes only for a vegetarian meal.
Add olive oil to meals and salads.
It is possible that the key benefit of the Mediterranean diet comes from the high use of extra virgin olive oil (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29068387/). An easy way to incorporate more olive oil is to drizzle it onto your food after you’ve served it. This keeps the oil from overheating, which is important. A drizzle can be any amount that suits your taste preference.
The olive oil can be flavoured, and this short video from Jamie Oliver shows various quick ways to go about this: https://www.jamieoliver.com/videos/how-to-flavour-olive-oil-1-minute-tips-akis-petretzikis/
Olive oil works well as a base for salad dressing and there are many deli foods marinated in olive oil such as goat’s cheese and olives.
Stop to eat a proper meal, preferably with someone else e.g. a family dinner.
This one is a little controversial because, while family meals are associated with health benefits, it’s hard to tell if it’s the actual family meal that caused the benefit (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32422173/). In my experience as a Dietitian however, any level of stopping to sit and eat a meal, whether it be alone or with others, helps to make that meal a priority and may just help to get the other strategies happening. So if you want to eat more fresh vegetables and olive oil, make sure that you consider dinner (or lunch) an important part of your day.
Meanwhile, let’s hope we can all get back to the Mediterranean itself one day!