Leading doctors are now advising that the Mediterranean (Med) Diet is not only healthy for our hearts reducing heart attacks and strokes, but also in the fight against obesity.

In fact they believe that this may be a healthier way to eat for sustained weight loss that the conventional approach which is to limit calorie consumption.

The doctors, writing in the Postgraduate Medical Journal (PMJ), criticize the diet industry for focussing on calorie restriction rather than good nutrition.

Mediterranean diet and heart health

As you will have read here before (see below for my previous blogs on this subject) the Med diet focuses on eating vegetables, salads, fruit (in its whole form), nuts (raw rather than salted) and olive oil.

Author of the report, Dr Asseem Malhotra says the science for the diet is overwhelming: “It’s going to have an impact on their health very quickly. We know the traditional Mediterranean diet, which is higher in fat, proven from randomised controlled trials, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke even within months of implementation.”

He also writes that adopting a Med diet after a heart attack is almost three times as effective at reducing deaths as taking cholesterol-lowering statin medication.

Government advice

Public Health England is said to be reviewing the dietary advice it gives in the “eatwell plate” – which is used across the UK for guidance on what food to eat.

My problem with the plate is that it gives too much emphasis on starchy vegetables such as white potatoes and other starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice.  These forms of carbohydrate should be limited in favour of wholegrain, vegetables and salads, beans and pulses, nuts and seeds, good quality meat, poultry, fish (white and oily) and eggs.

We should be looking to cut out ‘fast’ or ‘ultra processed’ foods as much as possible and be aware of hidden sugars in the foods we eat on a daily basis to help with weight management and other conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

Where do you begin?

A lot of nutrition and dietary advice can be overwhelming and for some people it seems just too difficult to make any changes at all.

My advice is to sit down and look at where you can swop one of your staple foods for a healthier option: it doesn’t have to be at every meal but once you start trying some different options, it gets easier to continue and experiment further.

  • Swop white rice for brown rice; butternut squash or sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes; wholegrain sourdough bread instead of white.
  • Hidden sugars in fruit yoghurts can increase your sugar load enormously – learn to like plain, natural yoghurt with your own added fruit and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
  • Swop your usual cereal for plain oats (not the processed flavoured ones you find in individual sachets).  A 25g portion of plain porridge oats, sprinkled over with a few plain seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower and linseed, stir in a couple of spoon of yoghurt – yes, whole fat Greek yoghurt is fine! – add some berries (frozen or fresh).  Mix together and leave in the fridge overnight.  In the morning sprinkle with a little ground cinnamon and eat up – yum!  A good instant breakfast if you are in a hurry.
  • Ditch the cartons of fruit juice and instead eat fruit whole put concentrate on lower sugar fruits such as berries, stone fruits, citrus, kiwi.
  • Start drinking more water or herbal/fruit teas.
  • Instead of always snacking on crisps or salted nuts, try some plain nuts and seeds.  You can toast them lightly in a frying pan before sprinkling sparingly with tamari (soya) sauce to make a tasty snack (if high blood pressure is an issue, avoid the soya sauce).
  • Get into the habit of adding salad and vegetables wherever you can – to your breakfasts if you are having eggs eg steamed spinach, slices of avocado, some grilled tomatoes, a small bowl of salad with soup (instead of bread.
  • Try to have at least 3 green and coloured veg on your plate at every main meal.  You don’t always need to include a starch such as potatoes, pasta or rice.  Experiment with a tray of colourful roast vegetables including butternut squash, red pepper, tomatoes, courgette, onion, garlic – this is a great way of using up ‘tired’ looking veg that have gone a bit wrinkly in the bottom of the fridge.