If you’re picturing pretty plates heaving with fresh vegetables tossed in olive oil served with a slice of fish, Hawkins says you’re on the right track. Other key elements include fresh fruit, wholegrains, poultry, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds.
It’s not just about what you put on your plate; it’s also about what you leave off the table, with Hawkins saying it’s important to limit your intake of red meat. You should also steer clear of processed food and saturated and trans fats, while only eating “moderate” amounts of dairy.
Hawkins says each component of the Mediterranean diet is good for your health in different ways. Consuming nuts and seeds, along with olive oil, provides monounsaturated fats that help lower cholesterol.
Meanwhile, fatty fish such as mackerel, sardines and salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation and blood clotting, while lowering triglyceride levels (having raised triglycerides increases your risk of certain conditions, such as heart disease).
And you already know that fresh fruit and vegetables are laden with essential vitamins and minerals.
But the overall effect of eating the Mediterranean way is where you really get bang for your buck.
“If you’re eating an unhealthy diet full of processed foods, adding one element such as olive oil is unlikely to have noticeable health benefits,” she says.
“However, if you adjust your whole diet so you eat less meat and more fish, opt for a healthier choice of fats, and eat more fruit and vegetables, then you could make a significant difference.”
While Hawkins is a big believer in the Mediterranean diet, she does have one issue with this way of eating – that people might interpret the presence of the word “diet” in its name to assume it’s just another fad.
“I would not refer to it as a ‘diet’, as that can make people feel like there is an end date, or goal to be achieved,” she says.
Instead, she’d love people to embrace it as a way of life, one in which you say adios to processed foods and unhealthy fats, while welcoming more plant-based options and heart-friendly sources of fat – even during the silly season.
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