The Mediterranean diet has been hailed as the best way of eating for health – from preventing obesity, diabetes and heart problems, to lowering the risk of many cancers. It is a great way to achieve a glowing complexion, better gut health and even sleep.
The diet is high in olive oil, fruit and vegetables, fish, legumes such as beans and chickpeas, with moderate amounts of dairy (mainly cheese and yoghurt), freshly made bread and pasta, and small amounts of wine. Mealtimes are enjoyed in a relaxed family and social setting, free from the distractions of the TV screen. Think Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Morocco, Tunisia…
How can we adopt the eating habits of nations used to sunshine all year around when we live in a country with a lot more rain and cloud than sunshine and blue skies?
Here are some tips on adapting the key components of the Mediterranean way of eating, and a great tasting, easy recipe to try.
Fruit and vegetables
Eat what’s in season where possible, so in the spring and summer it’s more salads, but during the colder months of the autumn and winter make soups and stews, or simply steam, grill and roast your vegetables.
Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over salads and roasted veg, and cook with the lighter coloured olive oil. Ditch the processed spreads and enjoy real butter instead, in small quantities. Mash an avocado on a sourdough toast with a poached egg on top, eat fish a couple of times a week, and snack on a variety of nuts – unsalted and raw if possible.
Eat a little less red meat, and more beans and chickpeas – simply add them to meals you already eat, such as soups, stews, salads.
Now that full fat dairy has been brought back from years of exile, enjoy a creamy porridge made with full fat milk; Parmesan cheese grated over a breakfast omelette; a small pot of full fat yoghurt sweetened with a bit of honey and fruit.
Enjoy a glass of red – in moderation
Whilst the British culture (sadly) doesn’t allow for the long lunchtime siestas with several courses served under the clear blue skies, we would all do well drinking the Mediterranean way – sipping wine slowly, with meals, and in small quantities. It may be even help keep those arteries clear!
Here is a very forgiving Tunisian recipe for shakshuka, a dish of eggs poached in a tomato sauce with onions, peppers, herbs and spices. It can be enjoyed as a breakfast, brunch or lunch, even supper, all year around. Add beans and a few slices of chorizo for extra taste. Although a cast iron skillet is often used, shakshuka can be made in a non-stick pan too. Once you get the hang of it, you can invest in a set of oven-proof tapas / shakshuka dishes and make individual serving sizes. The hot dish is then placed on another plate before serving.
3 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 green or yellow peppers sliced
6 average sized fresh tomatoes, chopped
A few olives
1/2 cup tomato sauce
A cupful of tinned beans or chickpeas
Salt and pepper to season
Chopped fresh parsley leaves or chives or mint leaves to season before serving
Optional ingredients: Paprika, coriander, cumin, chilli peppers, a few slices of chorizo
1. Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil in a large cast iron skillet. (If you are using chorizo, start with this ingredient – you’ll need less oil and less salt).
2. Add the onions, garlic, peppers and spices. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the vegetables have softened.
3. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, beans and olives, and simmer for a few more minutes, taste and season with pepper and other spices.
4. Using a wooden spoon, make 6 “wells” in the tomato mixture, spacing them out and gently crack an egg into each space.
5. Reduce the heat, cover the skillet, and cook on low heat until the egg whites are set.
6. Uncover and add the fresh parsley, or chives or mint, depending on your preference.
Season with black pepper, salt, paprika or chilli peppers. Serve with warmed bread – ciabatta, sourdough, pita or any crusty bread.
Founder and editor of FitNet.
Previously gymnastics coach, massage therapist and personal trainer with 20 years of experience. Former gymnast and dancer.