Eat like an old-school Mediterranean

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The old-school Mediterranean diet high in vegetables, fruit and fish, is said to keep your brain younger and healthier.

Are you about to eat a salami sandwich? It’s probably better to leave it on your plate. This week the World Health Organisation has placed processed meats such as bacon and sausage in the same category as smoking for causing cancer. According to the WHO report, eating just a couple ounces (50 grams) of processed meats per day will increase your chances of colorectal cancer by 18%.

Now that doesn’t mean that you no longer can enjoy a hot dog. You can have one every once in awhile. But if eating a lot of processed meat is not good for you, what else is left for you to eat to stay healthy?

The Mediterranean diet

If you’re living in a Mediterranean country, you can count yourself lucky as doctors say a Mediterranean diet is a healthy one to follow. Now I hear you thinking, the Spaniards can’t get enough of their jamón, which is red meat and Italians love their prosciutto, pizza and pasta. But these dishes don’t exactly fit into a healthy diet. The Mediterranean diet that the doctors are referring to is the old-school one that is high in fish, veggies, nuts and fruit, and low in meat. Several studies have shown that following this diet lowers the risk for cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. It even keeps your brain younger and healthier.

It is true, however, that the old-school Mediterranean diet may not reflect accurately the eating habits in Mediterranean countries today. Over the years the national diet in Spain, Greece and Italy has changed toward a more American diet, based on heavily processed food and fast food containing unhealthy sugars and fats. Still, a lot of aspects of the traditional Mediterranean diet are being incorporated in a Spanish, Greek or Italian meal.

The basics of Mediterranean eating

Now it’s almost impossible to change your eating habits overnight to a Mediterranean one, so here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Eat lots of vegetables: try a simple plate of sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and crumbled feta cheese, or load your pizza with peppers and mushrooms and leave the sausage and pepperoni in the fridge. Include beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds for protein in your meals. Another great way to load up on vegetables are salads and soups.
  • Eat seafood twice a week: seafood lovers are in for a treat. Try to incorporate seafood in your meals. Fish such as tuna, salmon, herring and sardines are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids are is good for the brain and heart.
  • Use fats, the good ones: now we’ve all heard that we should stay away from using and eating (saturated) fat, but extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, sunflower seeds, olives, and avocados are the healthy kinds.
  • Snack on fruits: avoid sugar and sweets. Instead of eating an ice cream for dessert, try a plate of seasonal fruit.

[Image: Flickr]