When you think of Mediterranean cuisines, the first things that probably come to mind are Greek-style platters stacked high with meat or carb-tastic Italian pastas with rich, creamy sauces.

But if you’re a lover of the above, we’re sorry to tell you that the Mediterranean Diet is almost the exact opposite.

In fact, the foods it promotes hark back to the Greek diet of old. Think lots of green leafy veggies, fresh fruits and a glass of wine (now that we can get on board with!)

In recent years, studies have suggested that this diet, though it is considered more of a lifestyle, can do everything from preventing heart disease to reversing diabetes and defeating depression.

We sat down with Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos from LaTrobe University in Melbourne to get the lowdown.

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The Diet

The Mediterranean lifestyle is primarily plant-based but by no means is it a vegetarian diet.

“It’s not strictly vegetarian,” Dr Itsiopoulos explains. “In fact, fish is an important part of the diet, but the amount and frequency of meat and chicken is much, much lower than we would see today.”

As a guide, there should be a four-to-one ratio of plants to animal foods.

It’s considered to be a high-fat, good-fat diet. These are the healthy fats found in nuts and most importantly, extra virgin olive oil.

The diet also recommends two small serves of dairy, three to four serves of wholegrains and yes, that all-important glass of wine a day (one standard drink only, guys. That’s about 100 ml).

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The Importance Of Exercise

With a healthy diet comes equally essential exercise. But, for those who are already balking at the idea of facing the treadmill again, Dr Itsiopoulos says moderate exercise is enough.

“Regular outdoor physical activity, where you’re exposing yourself to the sun for vitamin D, is very important,” she explains.

And it doesn’t have to be a chore. Just imagine life in a beautiful beachside Greek village and you’ll be right on track.

You could start walking to the local shops for fresh groceries every day or tend to your garden more frequently and you’ll hit your daily exercise needs with ease.

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The Importance Of Family

A big Greek or Italian family – from the young to the old – is at the heart of the Mediterranean diet, coming together frequently to share incredible and surprisingly healthy meals.

But in our busy Asian lifestyles, it seems we’re more likely to enjoy a hurried meal at our work desks or in front of the TV.

It’s here that the ‘lifestyle’ component of the Mediterranean diet really comes into play.

As Dr Itsiopolous explains, taking the time, whenever you can, to really appreciate your meals alongside family and friends is essential to successfully sticking to the diet.

Why?

It forces you to slow down when eating, think about how much you’re eating and recognising when you’re full to prevent over-eating.

Together, these three elements have created what is said to be one of the healthiest diets in the world. The myriad healthy benefits of the Mediterranean Diet range from promoting great heart health to reducing the risk of stroke.

Finally, a diet we actually want to stick to!

Text: Stephanie Marinkovic/The Australian Women’s Weekly

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