Did you know that the Mediterranean diet is recognized by the World Health Organization as a healthy and sustainable dietary pattern?IntroductionMediterranean diet is a generic term based on the traditional healthy eating habits of people from around 16 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea including France, Greece, Italy and Spain. The eating habits vary by country based on their culture, religion, economy, ethnic background and agricultural production. So, the Mediterranean diet has a range of definitions with some common factors. .There is no single definition of the Mediterranean diet, but in general, it's built around plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, beans, nut and seeds, olive oil and seafood. Relatively moderate amounts of dairy, poultry and eggs are included. In contrast, red meat is eaten very occasionally. Mediterranean style dietThe Mediterranean diet has been linked to good health and is considered to be one of the healthiest eating plans to prevent chronic disease. In the 1960s, researchers noted that in Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy, people were exceptionally healthy and had the lowestrates of chronic disease in the world. Their life expectancy was the highest and the number of deaths caused by coronary heart disease was fewer than the U.S. and northern Europe. Compared to Americans, people living in the Mediterranean region had a low risk of many lifestyle diseases.This focused interest on their lifestyle, especially their diet.Plant-based, not meat-basedPeople are generally quite resistant to modifying their diet, especially if they are advised to avoid comfort food (which could be unhealthy, processed or junk food). The Mediterranean diet is a stop-gap way of eating healthy which is sustainable, inexpensive and appealing to the taste buds.When you hear the word 'Mediterranean' the first food that comes to mind maybe piua and pasta from Italy or lamb chops from Greece. But the fact is, being junk and processed these are not included in the category of healthy foods. Switching to healthier options such as legumes and vegetables or fish and avocados might be uncomfortable initially but these healthier changes could benefit overall fitness and wellbeing.A true Mediterranean diet is not only based on eating fresh, wholesome, traditional, local foods but also on being physically active. Sharing meals with friends and family is also a very important element which has beneficial effects on mood and mental well-being.Mediterranean diet is more convenient to eat and less expensive than eating packaged or processed foods as Mediterranean meals are composed of mostly plants and whole grains. This diet can be followed by all people, irrespective of their financial or economic status.The main components of a Mediterranean diet include eating:•\tPlenty of seasonal fruits and vegetables every day.•\tNuts and seeds - Almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds etc.•\tWhole grains instead of refined flour. For example, consume whole grain bread, whole wheat flour, millets like Jowar, Bajra and brown rice instead of white bread/roti.•\tHealthy fats - using vegetable oil for cooking instead of butter/margarine.•\tLocal seafood/fish, poultry or beans instead of red meat - eating fish like tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring twice a week. Avoid deep-fried fish.•\tLesser quantity of red meat - If you eat meat, make sure it's lean and keep the portions small. Avoid processed/frozen meat.•\tModerate portions of dairy products - Limit high-fat dairy by switching to skimor low-fat products. Eat low-fat Greek or plain yoghurt and small amounts of a variety of cheeses.•\tLess salt - Herbs and spices boost flavour and lessen the need for salt.•\tA very little portion of simple sugars, sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed foods.Also, remember to:•\tRead food labels carefully to avoid unhealthy ingredients.•\tDrink at least 6 to 8 glasses of fluid a day.There is no single right way to follow the Mediterranean diet. As mentioned earlier, there are many countries around the Mediterranean Sea and eating habits vary for each country. The meal plan can be adjusted to your individual needs and preferences by considering all the above-mentioned general guidelines.Shifting to a Mediterranean dietDon't skip breakfastEating breakfast keeps you full for hours and helps boost metabolism. Whole grains, fruits, beans, nuts other fibre-rich foods are a great option to start your day.Eat lots of vegetablesTry a simple plate of salad drizzled with vegetable oil and lemon juice or load your thin crust whole-grain pizza with tomatoes, capsicum, zucchini, peppers and mushrooms instead of sausage.Vegetable smoothies, salads, soups, stir-fried veggies can be healthy choices for mid-meals instead of chips and biscuits.Use healthy fats in cookingOlive oil, nuts, olives, avocados and oilseeds such as flax and sunflower seeds are great sources of healthy fats. Saute vegetables in oil instead of in butter.Try to eat meatless mealsPrepare seafood/fish twice a week. If you regularly eat meat, try to eat a vegetarian meal once a week by including beans, whole grains and vegetables.You can gradually reduce the frequency of eating meat-based meals.Enjoy dairy products in moderationIt is recommended to limit saturated fat to no more than 10 per cent of your daily calories. Avoid saturated and processed dairy products such as cream, processed cheese, store-bought paneer, full cream milk and ice creams. Enjoy low-fat dairy products such as natural (unprocessed) cheese and Greek or plain yoghurt, buttermilk and skimmed milk.Healthy snackingEat a handful of nuts and sprouts or fruits, vegetable soup, salads, smoothies, yoghurt-fruit smoothies instead of sandwiches, chips, pizzas, biscuits etc.Enjoy dry fruit for dessertEat dry fruits such as dates, figs and raisins instead of ice cream, cakes or other sweets.What to drinkYour go-to beverage in the Mediterranean diet should be an adequate quantity of water, approximately 10-12 glasses per day. You can also include vegetable juices, homemade soups, green tea etc. Opt for sugar-free coffee or tea. Avoid sugar-sweetened colas and fruit juices which contain a very high quantity of sugar.What about wine?The Mediterranean diet typically allows red wine in moderation but drinking too much harms health. However, this is completely optional and wine should be avoided by anyone with health problems especially if it aggravates the medical condition.Connect to someone over a mealSwitch off the 1V and laptop; put away your smartphone while eating. The simple act of eating a meal with a friend or a loved one can reduce stress and help boost your mood. This also helps to prevent overeating, making it easier to maintain your weight. It is also a great way to monitor what you eat.Health benefitsSeveral studies have shown that a traditional plant-based, regional Mediterranean diet prepared using healthy cooking methods coupled with physical activity can reduce your risk of physical as well as mental health problems.Prevents heart disease and strokesThe Mediterranean diet limits your intake of unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats) which are present in refined bread, processed foods and red meat. These contribute to heart disease. Instead, it encourages the intake of healthy fats like nuts and olive oil. This is the primmy source of fat in the Mediterranean diet which is known to lower total cholesterol and LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels.Fish is also important in the Mediterranean diet. Flsh is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, a type of healthy fat that may reduce inflammation in the body, reduce blood clotting, help decrease triglycerides and decrease the risk of stroke and heart failure.Protects against Type 2 DiabetesAs the Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, nuts, whole grains (all good source of fibre), it slows digestion, prevents huge fluctuations in blood sugar levels and helps to keep sugar levels steady. Fibre also helps you maintain a healthy weight and reduces your waistline. It is effective in improved functioning of insulin.Helps to reduce the risk of cancerResearchers have found that plant-based eating is linked to a reduced risk of cancer particularly colon cancer, breast cancer and gastric cancer.Promotes healthy weight managementReplacing simple carbohydrates with fibre-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts gives you feeling of fullness and more satiated which helps in healthy weight loss and boost metabolism.Improves your gut healthIn the Mediterranean diet, eating plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, and legumes helps to improve the good bacteria quantity, compared to processed foods. It also improves digestive health.Reduces the risk of developing muscle weaknessNutrients such as proteins, antioxidants, Omega-3 gained from a Mediterranean diet help you stay agile and reduce frailty by preventing muscle weakness.Reduces the risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseaseFibre, vitamins, mineral, Omega-3 rich Mediterranean diet may improve your cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and overall blood vessel health, which in turn may reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease. The high levels of antioxidants can prevent cells from undergoing a damaging process called oxidative stress; thereby reducing the risk of Parkinson's disease.Increases longevityBy reducing your risk of developing heart disease, Diabetes or cancer, theMediterranean diet reduces your risk of early death. Possible health concerns Since the Mediterranean eating style encompasses eating healthy foods in moderation, there are a very few risks in eating a Mediterranean diet.•\tIt is important to watch your weight especially if you eat an excessive quantity of fats in oil and nuts as you may put on weight. Consume recommended foods in moderation.•\tYou may have an inadequate amount of calcium by restricting the intake of dairy products. Take your health care provider's help for calcium supplementation, if needed.•\tThough wine is a part of a Mediterranean eating style, avoid wine if you are prone to alcohol abuse, pregnant, lactating or have any medical condition that alcohol could worsen.•\tFor children aged 12 and younger, pregnant women and nursing mothers choose local fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollack or catfish - as too much mercury can be poisonous.Ple.ase Note: It is important to consult your doctor and dietician before st.arting any diet or before modifying your diet.ary int.a.Jee.Remember to seek medical advice before considering the Mediterranean diet. Di.ahetes Health does not seek to endorse the Mediterranean Diet.Ms Priya Chaudhari is a Registered Dietician.