More than 200 people in South Africa are killed by heart-related diseases each day, and according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation these conditions are largely affected by eating habits and lifestyle choices. There is something you can do now to avoid heart disease. So how about the Mediterranean diet to get your health back on track?
No, you don’t have to go halfway around the world to do this diet, but it was inspired by the nutrition of the people who lived near the Mediterranean Sea, and its principles can be used in our country too.
Registered dietitian Leepile Mantjane says, “This diet is healthy, balanced and quite restrictive to what is generally referred to as unhealthy foods, like red meat, processed sugars and refined carbohydrates.”
According to registered dietitian Megan Pentz-Kluyts, South Africans should focus more on seasonally available fruits and vegetables and more affordable oils.
“We should also focus on a plant-based diet, cutting back on red meat, choosing healthier cooking methods, more herbs and spices-less salt, and possibly individualising the intake of alcohol,” she adds.
She says the South African food-based dietary guidelines (SA FBDG) and the Healthy Eating Food Guide compiled for South Africans has many similarities to the Mediterranean diet.
According to Mantjane, the following foods form a large part of this diet:
- Fresh fruits & vegetables
These foods provide vitamins and minerals that take care of one’s immunity, skin, metabolism, skin, etc.
- Wholegrain starches
Whole grains are a great source of fibre and have a higher protein. They are more filling which assist with weight management and prevention and management of chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol levels.
- Lean poultry & eggs
They provide protein required for proper muscle function, muscle restoration, better oxygen supply to organs as they are also a great source of iron.
- Healthy fats & oils
Nuts, seeds, avocados, olive and fish oil, have anti-inflammatory properties and these foods are able to transport fat-soluble vitamins across the body and provide insulation for some organs.
Gqeberha-based clinical dietitian Roslynn van Schoor advises people to avoid deep-frying or cooking food in too much oil.
“Air-frying or steaming food will help minimise oil usage. If cooking with oil, choose unsaturated oils such as olive or canola oil rather than saturated fat (butter or coconut oil),” she says.
Van Schoor says that adding salt, sugar, powdered soups/sauces/stock cubes to food should be a thing of the past in the Mediterranean diet and people should “rather use things like fresh herbs, lemon juice, vinegar, onions, garlic, and chili to flavour food”.
Apart from following the guidelines mentioned above, the following dishes are Van Schoor’s best bet for Mediterranean dieters:
Here you will need:
- 1 portion steamed hake (with lemon juice, black pepper and freshly chopped parsley)
- 1 cup stir-fried veggies (using 1 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp garlic, ½ onion, mixed herbs, black pepper)
- ½ cup wholegrain rice with lentils (boiled)
You will need:
- 1 tomato and 1 onion (chopped and fried in 1 tsp olive oil and 1 tsp garlic)
- 1 cup mixed vegetables of choice
- ½ cup chickpeas ½ cup red kidney beans
- 1 – 2 tbsp curry powder
- Freshly chopped parsley
Serve with wholegrain starch of choice and ¼ cup fat-free plain yoghurt.
The health benefits
According to a study focusing on The Mediterranean diet and health, the benefits of living off this diet are largely associated with cardiovascular health. Pentz-Kluyts says these benefits include obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and dyslipidaemia (lower cholesterol).
“It is proven that Mediterranean diet has an influence on the decreasing rates of incident diabetes, and better glycaemic control in diabetic patients compared to control diets. In prospective studies, adherence to this way of eating reduced mortality, especially cardiovascular mortality, hence increased longevity,” she concludes.