Is there such a thing as ideal diet? It seems too good to be true. High-protein, low-carb, carb-free, low-fat, detox, juicing, calorie-counting, 5-2, 3-1-2-1, Paleo, Atkins, Zone.... We've heard of them all - presented as the perfect solution they gained an army of dedicated followers and can, indeed, help to lose weight, but the truth is that, regardless of the results, all of them are, ultimately, flawed.
None have been well-researched or used long enough to prove their effectiveness and reliability, most seem to carry some form of warning and are never suitable for everyone. They may promise a quick fix or ticket to wellness paradise, but truthfully, are never designed to become the ultimate problem-solvers. The ever so popular 1980s low-fat diet can create an imbalance of either proteins or carbohydrates and cause insulin resistance and blood sugar problems. The Zone was once described as a precursor to eating disorders. The Atkins was the ultimate way to kidney stones, thyroid issues, hormonal imbalances, nutrient deficiencies and inflammation. And the Paleo, whilst having a few good points, is still promoting red meat, which, if you follow serious research, has been linked to several forms of cancer and inflammatory conditions. Another important point to bear in mind is that all of them focus on the exclusion of entire food groups, which is never a good thing. Never.
And yet, there's a diet that can work miracles, be easily optimised to address every single concern and suit different schedules, habits and lifestyle needs. It can help you lose weight, get glowing skin and gorgeous hair and, whilst filling your life and plate with amazing flavours and rainbow of colours, reduce and even reverse (!) risk of serious health issues, from diabetes and heart disease to cancer...
Have you guessed which one I am talking about?
The Mediterranean diet, of course! And how could I not love this one? It has been around for centuries. Its remarkable effects on our health have been researched, talked about and praised for decades by every respectable health and nutrition journal. Unlike any other "ancient diets", the Mediterranean comes with abundant amount of evidence in a form of records, archaeological food debris, pottery and tools from the prehistoric, Neolithic and Bronze Age to the present times.
According to a study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, this diet can also be defined as "near-vegetarian", which has been known for its numerous health benefits and a source of very specific and incredibly important nutrients.
The Mediterranean diet is based on simple and natural ingredients, low in sugar and saturated fats, high in beneficial omega 3 fatty acids, polyphenols, fibre, vitamins C and E, minerals important for reducing inflammation and maintaining overall health, and, of course, myriad of phytonutrients to give you longer and healthier life inside that beautiful age-proof body of yours. Best of all, you can follow it for life without failure or feeling of deprivation.
How do you make a switch?
* Create each meal by choosing your source of protein, adding plenty of non-starchy bright coloured vegetables (think broccoli, cauliflower, bell peppers, aubergines, tomatoes, courgettes - the list goes on), small quantities of whole grains, and remember to add some good fats from EV olive oil, avocado, raw seeds and nuts.
* Replace meat with Omega-3 rich wild salmon and other oily fish such as trout, mackerel and sardines. Ideally, have 4 servings per week. In addition, have organic eggs, some chicken and turkey.
* Enjoy vegetarian sources of protein, particularly beans and nuts that will provide you with magnesium, important for blood sugar balance, as well as fibre. In addition to that, nuts (especially walnuts and almonds) are another source of fatty acids.
* Dairy is definitely on the menu, but my advice to you is to limit it to once per day and go for goats, sheep and buffalo versions, rather than anything made with cow's milk. A little cheese, natural yoghurt, kefir are the perfect options.
* Your perfect sources of wholegrains are brown rice, buckwheat, millet and quinoa - delicious and gluten-free. Choose organic and watch the quantities - grains are very nutrient-dense, to a little goes a long way and provides you with fibre, B vitamins and magnesium, keep your thyroid happy and your digestion - in top shape. And if you feel like having a plate of pasta - pick the one made with brown rice, but avoid anything with corn and additives. Still crave the real deal - choose organic, watch the portion size, cook it al dente, serve with a vegetable-rich tomato sauce and enjoy occasionally. Same rule applies to bread.
* Include 2-3 organic fruits per day, go for fresh whenever possible, but it's ok to replace 1 of your fresh fruits with a serving of dried organic dates, apricots or raisins every now and then.
* Use olive oil and balsamic vinegar as your salad dressing - both will help you maintain blood sugar levels, reduce inflammation and improve chances of weight loss.
* Don't forget the spices: cinnamon, ginger and garlic will help you maintain blood sugar levels and healthy cholesterol, while protecting your from inflammation and working as anti-bacterial agent. Fenugreek can reduce glycaemic index of your meals and increase your body's ability to maintain blood sugar levels. Parsley will provide plenty of vitamin C, fennel seeds will support hormonal balances, while oregano will work as a natural anti-fungal remedy.
* Take time to prepare and savour your meal - it would be such a shame not to enjoy and get the most out of your delicious Mediterranean-inspired plate of goodness.
From now until the end of June tune in for more posts from the Body beautiful series where I will share tips and trick to help you get ready for summer and simultaneously improve your diet and health, too. If you have any particular questions - don't hesitate to drop me a line or leave a comment.
Photo source: Bianca Balti & Eva Herzigova in Dolce & Gabbana Spring/Sumemr 2014 campaign, Bianca Balti in Dolce & Gabbana Jewellery 2012 campaign