A taste of the Med

Heading to the Med – why your holiday food could help keep you healthy

Plenty of us are looking forward to packing our bags, leaving the rain behind and heading off to find some Mediterranean sunshine over the next few weeks.

Part of the fun of a holiday is to discover new foods and flavours of the local region, and the Mediterranean diet is often cited as one of the healthiest in the world, with benefits ranging from cardiovascular support and immune balance to anti-inflammatory effects and weight loss.

So why is the Mediterranean diet so healthy?

It seems there are some key ingredients that are integral to why this sort of diet is so damn good for us. Whether you are hopping on a flight or not, we can all add a little sunshine to our Irish diets by adopting some of our European neighbours’ healthy habits.

  1. Colour – platefuls of colourful fruit and vegetables, packed with colour and flavour supply our diets with mega doses of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre. As well as thinking about getting our five a day, we would do well to think about packing as many different colours onto our plate as possible. Each colour provides a different balance of nutrients and phytochemicals that work synergistically to help keep our health in good nick.
  2. Olive oil – get into the habit of drizzling a little olive oil onto food. Whether as an ingredient in a simple salad dressing with some balsamic vinegar and mustard, or simply drizzling some olive oil over steamed vegetables, this habit will not only provide us with a little boost of healthy monounsaturated fats, but will ultimately make our food taste so much better too.
  3. Oily fish – grilled sardines, fresh from the sea are the epitome of holiday food for many. Although we may not be lucky enough to have fresh sardines as catch of the day, tinned fish is perfectly fine too, especially if it is in tomato sauce or olive oil for an extra taste of the Med, or add salmon, mackerel or trout to your weekday menu at home.
  4. Herbs and spices – garlic, rosemary, thyme and mint and flavour and a pop of nutritional benefits to the Mediterranean diet. These everyday herbs add a hit of antioxidants to salads, grilled vegetables or a roast dinner. Try growing a pot or tow of herbs on your doorstep and get into the habit of adding to whatever you are cooking up for dinner.
  5. Pulses – beans and lentils form the basis of cassoulets and soups in most Mediterranean countries. Packed with fibre, these low GI foods are and great way to boost the nutritional content of loads of recipes. From lentil Bolognese to houmous, these versatile foods are a healthy and economical habit to adopt.
  6. Wholegrains – we can’t talk about the Mediterranean diet without talking about pizza and pasta. Made from refined white flour, these foods are totally fine in moderation, but not a great idea as an everyday essential. If you want to reap the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, then swap to wholegrains. A fibre rich diet helps support digestion, is associated with heart health and is important for the prevention of type 2 diabetes, as well as a key nutrient for successful weight loss.

Of course, there are other habits that Mediterranean folk have as part of their lifestyle that could help explain why they have good health. Daily exercise, good stress management, a healthy work-life balance and enjoying the outdoor life with plenty of sunshine could play a part too.

Have a great holiday and bring some healthy habits home with you.

This blog post first appeared as an article in The Irish News on Saturday 29 June 2019.