As well as making you live longer, the diet that people live on in countries such as France, Spain and Italy is delicious and has lots of benefits including giving you gorgeous skin, hair and nails – as well as helping you lose weight. This way of life also lengthens your health span (which is the number of years which you are happy and healthy for, before you develop chronic illness in old age).
Numerous studies have shown that people who live on the ‘Mediterranean diet’, which is eating mostly vegetables, nuts, fish and ‘good’ oils, are a third less likely to die an early death and are significantly more likely to live longer. And, they have better chances of surviving heart attacks and cardiovascular disease than those who follow a diet which is rich in red meat such as beef, and the trans and hydrogenated fats found in processed foods.
Leading heart disease expert Professor Giovanni de Gaetano said at a heart disease conference in Rome: “Many studies have shown that a Mediterranean lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of various chronic diseases and, importantly, of death from any cause.”
The study followed 1,200 people with a history of heart attacks, strokes and blocked arteries over seven years. During that time, 208 patients died but scientists found that those who followed the Mediterranean diet were more likely to survive.
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The diet revolves around eating fresh fish at least three times a week, with lots of fruit and vegetables which are in season and packed with antioxidants – which help boost your immunity.
As a rule of thumb try to eat as close to nature as possible; things which come in a packet, ready-made or frozen that are packed with additives and trans fats are a no-go and if you can, pick oily fish over red meat where possible. (Although of course a little of what you fancy does you good).
How does the diet help us live longer?
By cutting out processed, fat-laden, sugary foods you can expect to melt off between three and five pounds in a couple of weeks, without even trying to lose weight. And, the ‘good fats’ omega-3 and omega-6 nutrition which are found in nuts, seeds, and various oils (avocado, walnut, olive and pumpkin seed oils) as well as the omega-3 found in oily fish (sardines, herring, whitebait, anchovies, salmon, sea bass and tuna) will make you look and feel great as well as having an anti-inflammatory, energy boosting benefit.
Try adding a large helping of fresh salad to your meals; it takes mere minutes to whip up a side dish of avocado, tomatoes, cucumber and basil with a drizzle of olive oil – which you can also put on your bread instead of butter (or try mixing with balsamic vinegar for a slice of heaven).
Chickpeas, lentils, butter beans and split peas form a large part of the diet, especially for vegetarian dishes. They are high in B vitamins that give us energy as well as most of the minerals vital for metabolism, immunity, bone building and many other body and brain functions. Adding any of these to vegetable soups creates a far more satisfying meal as they take longer to digest and will release their energy over a number of hours. They are also filling you up and reducing cravings for carbohydrates, so are great for weight loss.
Wine, especially antioxidant packed red wine, is fine in moderation, and drinking lots of water (in France they love fizzy mineral water which is rich in magnesium) is wonderful for your skin.
The wonderful thing about this diet is it’s not a strict thing which has to be followed to the letter. It’s more of a lifestyle which is about feeding your body things that do it good, while sitting down with friends and family to take the time to enjoy leisurely meals. Making an event out of a meal, and eating mindfully is always going to be more enjoyable than the modern way of eating while multi-tasking and thinking about other things.
We’ll certainly drink (one glass of antioxidant-rich red wine!) to that.