With COVID 19 discouraging us from the Mediterranean resorts that are usually a popular summer destination for many British holiday makers, dietary experts are encouraring us, for the good of our health to bring the Mediterranean to our dinner plates - feasting on colourful vegetables and fruits, wholegrain cereals along with fish and small amounts of lean meat and low fat dairy foods all washed down with a glass or two of red wine – the typical Mediterranean diet. Not only is this diet delicious – it’s really healthy. Studies looking at the diets of thousands of people around Europe have confirmed the health advantages of the Mediterranean diet.
Our grateful thanks to the British Dietetic Association (BDA) for their contribution to our on-air report and for the use of the web copy below - for more information check out out their website by clicking here
The good news is research shows you don’t actually need to live near the Mediterranean to get the benefit. No matter where you come from, the closer your diet matches the typical Mediterranean style diet, the lower your likelihood of developing problems such as heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes, the BDA recommends the following five top tips:
1. Fill up on fruit and veg. Aim to eat a minimum of five portions of a variety of different coloured fruits and vegetables each day. They contain a wide range of protective plant nutrients or phytochemicals. Fresh, frozen, canned or dried fruits and vegetables all count in the diet. Beans and pulses and 100% juice or smoothies count too but only as one portion a day, no matter how much you have.
2. Feast on fish. Go for fish dishes more often including at least one portion of oil rich fish a week. Choose from salmon, trout, mackerel, herrings, sardines or pilchards. Fresh, smoked, frozen and canned varieties all count.
3. Choose your fats wisely. Use vegetable oils, such as rapeseed or olive oil, in moderation for cooking and to dress salad and soft spreads made from these oils on bread. When using animal fats, such as butter or cream, do so very sparingly. Cut down on fatty cuts of red meat and meat products such as sausages, pies and streaky bacon. Trim the fat from cuts of red meat and the skin from chicken and limit your intake of fried fast food.
4. Make it wholegrain. When choosing foods from the starchy food group, replace refined cereal foods with wholegrain varieties. Wheat, oats, barley, rye and rice can all be eaten in the wholegrain form. Aim to get at least half your starchy carbohydrates as wholegrains – at least two to three servings a day.
5. Go easy on alcohol. Moderate drinking has been shown to have protective health effects in men and post-menopausal women. In particular, red wine contains beneficial substances that may protect artery walls. Experts recommend only moderate consumption of alcohol one to two units per day. Over this amount, the detrimental effects, for example liver cirrhosis, are greater than any positive effects.
Fruit & vegetables Given the many health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables, we should all be trying to meet a ‘five-a-day’ target yet. research suggests as a nation we are still, on average, eating less than three portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Why are fruits and vegetables so beneficial? As well as looking and tasting great, fruits and vegetables are incredibly versatile, packed with essential vitamins, minerals and a variety of phytochemicals (naturally occurring plant substances) that are vital for good health.
Many of these nutrients also act as powerful antioxidants, protecting the body from harmful free radicals (found in pollutants) that can cause disease. Studies have shown that people who eat plenty of fruit and vegetables have a lower risk of developing many diseases, including high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and stroke, and some cancers (including mouth, throat, stomach, colon and lung cancers). In fact, it has been estimated that diet is likely to contribute to the development of one-third of all cancers, and that eating more fruits and vegetables is the second most important cancer prevention strategy, after stopping smoking.#
There is evidence to show that for every portion of fruit and vegetables eaten there is greater protection against strokes (by up to 40%) and some cancers (by up to 20%). Other health benefits found have included a delay in the development of cataracts (cloudy lens of the eye), reducing the symptoms of asthma, improving bowel function, better management of diabetes and the potential for improved bone health. Fruits and vegetables also have the added bonus that they are naturally low in energy (calories) and high in fibre, and so could help you to maintain a healthier weight.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the UK’s Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition (COMA) policy recommends that we should all be aiming to eat at least five portions (at least 400g in total) of a wide variety fruit and vegetables a day - about a third of your total daily food consumption.
Children should also be encouraged to eat at least five different portions a day. Our likes and dislikes of foods are formed in the first few years of life, so children who eat a variety of fruit and vegetables are more likely to continue to eat them as teenagers and adults. There is no specific guidance on portion size for children, but a good guide is an amount that fits into a child’s hand.
So how much is a portion? One adult portion is 80g (There is no specific guidance on portion size for children, but a good guide is an amount that fits into a child’s hand) For adults follow this guide:
- One banana, orange, pear or apple or a similar sized fruit
- Half a large grapefruit or avocado
- A slice of large fruit such as melon or pineapple
- Two satsumas, plums or similar sized fruit
- A handful of grapes, cherries or berries
- One heaped tablespoon of dried fruit (such as raisins and apricots or three heaped tablespoons of fruit salad (fresh/tinned in fruit juice) or stewed fruit
- Three heaped tablespoons of vegetables (raw, cooked, frozen or tinned)
- Three heaped tablespoons of beans and pulses, such as baked or kidney beans (however much you eat, beans and pulses only count as one of your five a day portions)
- One dessert bowl of salad
Fresh, frozen, dried and canned fruit and vegetables all count. Also, 100% fruit or vegetable juice, pure fruit juice smoothies and pulses count. Remember that potatoes, yam, plantain, and cassava do not count towards your five a day because they are starchy foods.
Fruit/vegetable juices and smoothies A glass (150ml) of 100% fruit or vegetable juice also counts as one portion. However, no matter how much you drink, it will only count as one portion because the juicing process removes most of the fibre from the fruit.
A 150ml smoothie counts as one portion but some smoothies on the market today may contain two portions if they contain at least 150ml of fruit juice and at least 80g of crushed fruit or vegetable pulp.
Five a day the easy way!
Try to eat one or two portions with each meal and make fruit or vegetables the first choice for a snack and it will be easy to eat at least five a day.
Go for those in season: Opting for fresh produce as they are more likely to be locally grown, are value for money and often look and taste the best.
Eat a rainbow: Variety is important, as different coloured fruits and vegetables contain their own combination of vitamins and minerals, so try to eat one portion from each colour group. Choose from red, green, yellow, white, purple and orange varieties of fruits and vegetable, including tomato-based products and allium vegetables such as garlic.
Cut down or avoid butter, cream or cheese sauces! Even though fruit and vegetables are low in calories, remember that their calorie content is determined by what you prepare them with.
Be careful not to eat too many dried fruits: While dried fruits like apricots, raisins etc count towards your five-a-day, once fruit is dried it also becomes aconcentrated source of sugar and calories.
Check nutrition information on labels and look out for the ‘5 a day’ logo: Vegetables contained in convenience foods such as ready-meals, pasta sauces and takeaway meals can contribute to your five a day but many of these foods may be high in added salt, sugar or fat.
Cut down on your meat portion sizes: Bulk up on vegetables and pulses by adding them to stews and casseroles to get extra flavour, texture and nutrition.
Eat raw: Nutrients in fruit and vegetables can be easily destroyed during food preparation and by heat, so whenever possible eat raw. When cooking vegetables, try steaming, microwaving or poaching rather than boiling, so the maximum amount of nutrients can be retained.
What about supplements?
Don’t rely on supplements to get the vitamins and minerals your body needs unless you are advised in special circumstances such as pregnancy. Supplements are no substitute for a healthy diet. A well-balanced healthy diet containing plenty of fruits and vegetables is cheaper and more nutritious and it is possible that certain supplement combinations can be damaging to the body.
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All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.