How does Elva stay so svelte with a growing baby inside her tummy? She credits the Mediterranean Diet. Studies have shown that women who adhere to Mediterranean diet principles during their pregnancy gain less weight around the waist four years after childbirth. That is to say, pregnant women who follow the Mediterranean diet may have an upper hand against belly fat.
Low carb and ketone diets have become quite well-known in the past years. I am sure you have read about celebrities who abstain from eating in the evening, or they try to avoid carbs. It is thought that when you consume very little carbohydrates, your body is forced to burn your body fat to produce energy, thus helping you slim down.
Low carb diets typically prescribe 20% carbohydrates, 34% high uality fats and 35% proteins, while ketone diets only allow 5% carbohydrates, but suggest 75% fat and 20% proteins. As for me, carbohydrates tend to comprise 40 to 60% of my daily meals, and people tend to be quite surprised by this high ratio.
I find low-carb diet quite effective, but it is not enjoyable, and it is very easy to yo-yo back to your former weight (or even more), and that can be quite depressing. That is why I prefer the relatively easy-to-follow Mediterranean Diet. By Mediterranean, it generally refers to southern European countries like Greece, Spain, France, southern Italy, etc., which line the coast of the in-land sea. This diet is quite popular with nutritionists, and studies have shown that the traditional diets of these countries have helped to contribute to the general longevity of its people. It has also been shown through the centuries that this eating habit can help lower the risks of heart and arterial problems, diabetes and other illnesses. According to the annual American diet ranking report by US News and World Report, the Mediterranean diet ranks number one again this year, thus becoming the 2020 Best Diet winner.
The Mediterranean diet became recognized around the 1940s and 50s, when it was noted that the traditional diet of people living around the Mediterranean sea, especially those in Greece, southern Italy, France and Spain, tend to consist vast amounts of fruits, vegetables, natural grains, legumes and olive oil, supplemented with reasonable amounts of seafood and cheese, plus small amounts of meat products. After much observations and studies, modern Mediterranean diet takes the Greek diet as its basis. The principles are:
- Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables
- Choose whole grain products, such as whole wheat bread, and add nuts to the diet
- Use olive oil as the preferred fat
- Replace red meats with fish, white meats or soy products
- Use herbs and spices to season dishes to reduce the amount of sale needed
- Drink red wine in moderation
It is believed that this diet can help control our weight and can prevent dementia and cardiovascular disease.
So, how should we apply it in our daily life? Here is a handy guide:
- At least 5 servings of vegetables per day (1 serving = 1/2 cup cooked vegetables or 1 cup raw)
- At least 2 servings of fruits per day (1 serving = 1 cup)
- Incorporate beans and legumes at least twice a week
- Small amounts (around 30 g) of unsalted nuts per day as a snack
- 3 to 6 servings of grains, preferably whole-grain（1 serving = ½ cup cooked grains or 1 piece of bread
- Consume dairy products at least three times a week
- Replace red meats with fish, white meats or soy products
- Use olive oil
- A glass of red wine a week
My regular diet is a lot like what the above guide prescribes. I eat whole grains almost everyday, and I will try to incorporate at least two different types of suits, vegetables, legumes, spices, nuts and healthy fats (usually olive oil).
Here’s what my meals look like on a typical day:
My breakfast: oatmeal with nuts and a glass of milk. If you add fruits to muesli or yogurt, you can easily meet your daily fruit and nut targets, as well as one serving of grains.
For lunch：egg tofu with minced pork, stir-fried greens and brown rice. My dessert is a soup with dates, mulberry mistletoe, black beans, lotus seeds and an egg, plus a peach. All the dishes are cooked with olive oil. This meal helps me achieve three servings of vegetables and one serving of grains.
My dinner：stir-fried green beans and egg, blanched choi sum, pumpkin soup and chow mien (fried noodles). That’s all the suggested servings met! (Fried noodles are higher in calories. If your goal is to lose weight, you can substitute with brown rice.)
I have read a study comparing the effect on weight-loss and cardiovascular disease prevention between the Mediterranean diet with low-fat diets and low-carb diets. Participants of this study were all overweight to start with, and after following these diets for more than 12 months, the group following the Mediterranean diet was more successful in losing rate than those following the low-fat regimen. The former lost between 4.1 and 10.1 kg, while the low-fat group lost 2.9 to 5 kg, as did the low-carb group.
The gist of the Mediterranean diet is to emphasize the intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and high quality proteins. This balanced diet is high in fibre and hydration, which is beneficial to our digestive system. Ample grains and proteins provide adequate energy and nutrients to encourage a leaner body composition. It is easy to prepare these meals, and the sparing use of salts and sauces is also a key to weight loss.
For those of you who have food allergies, the Mediterranean diet proposes lesser amounts of meats, but it still suggests to incorporate fish and white meats every week. Since I am a vegetarian, I substitute these animal-based proteins with soy products. If you want to give this diet a try, the key is to follow the principles and avoid those foods that you cannot take. The Mediterranean diet is not only about choosing the right foods and the right portions, but a lifestyle that is active and social. It places equal importance in nutrition as well as mental well-being.
One final note: small amounts of red wine is a tradition in Mediterranean diets, but not everyone is into it. I have included it as part of the reference but it is your personal choice.
(translated by Leslie Yip)