The first thing you need to know is that the Mediterranean Heart Diet is not primarily a weight loss diet. When you eat the foods described herein in moderation and combine it with a good exercise program it can be an effective way to lose weight, but it is mostly a diet that is good for people who are worried about high blood pressure, or want to reduce their risk of heart disease, strokes and cancer.
The Mediterranean heart diet is based loosely on the (healthy) diets of Greece and Italy, and informed by nutritional information that has been learnt since the 1960s. It is an excellent way to reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, but without daily physical activity it can lead to weight gain.
- At the bottom you will see that the entire Mediterranean food pyramid is underpinned by physical exercise. If you do not get at least 30 minutes of good, strenuous physical and cardiovascular exercise a day while on this diet, there is a good chance you will gain weight! Take up jogging, cycling or simply walking, but make sure you get out there and work up a sweat!
- You’ll also see that the bottom of the pyramid is filled with starches. This means that the larger portion of your plate should be grains – but make them high-fibre, wholegrain starches like brown bread, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta. About a third of each meal should be these grains.
- Above this you have vegetables, and then fruit. The importance of these in your diet cannot be emphasized nearly enough! Forget ‘Five a Day’ or whatever the Surgeon General tells you, and just eat as much as you can. Learn the difference between high and low fat vegetables and fruits as well.
- Right above this you have beans, legumes and nuts. These are important as they contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils which help to aid weight loss, and greatly reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease. You should use these as snacks, and try to include some with every meal.
- At the top you will find first white meat, and then red meat. Fish and shellfish should be eaten 2-3 times a week, and red meat no more than 3 times a month. The rest of the time supplement your diet with lean poultry, but try to get used to at least one fully vegetarian meal per day!
Consult your doctor before making any major changes to your diet, and get your cholesterol levels tested regularly if you are over 30. Remember that the most important feature of the Mediterranean heart diet is that it is based on daily physical exercise!