Mediterranean diet for a healthy holiday

If you are jetting off to warmer climes of the Mediterranean this summer, eating like the locals could mean you come back from holiday healthier and happier than when you left.

Research shows that that eating a varied, plant-based diet packed with fruit, vegetables, pulses, herbs, spices, nuts and seeds, with fish a few times a week, a bit of lean poultry and plenty of good quality olive can have a positive impact on our mental and physical health.

The Mediterranean diet has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease and stroke for many years, but did you know that it has also been shown to help with weight management, balanced blood sugar levels, reduced risk of depression, reduced cancer risk and defence against asthma.

The plethora of health benefits have been attributed to the combination of fibre, antioxidants, polyphenols and good fats that this diet has in abundance.

So here are Vital Nutrition’s ideas for giving your diet a little flavour of the Med:

  • Use olive oil for dressings, dips and drizzles, choose cold pressed, organic, virgin olive oil if you can.
  • Spice it up – think garlic, basil, rosemary, thyme, paprika, turmeric and get herbs and spices into all your meals. These pungent plants have powerful health benefits.
  • Eat at least 6 portions of fruit and veg every day. The average Greek resident eats at least 6 a day, so follow by example and start early in the day with tomatoes or fruit at breakfast, salads , so enjoy a for lunch and veg based dishes as part of your man meal.
  • Love your legumes – peas, beans and lentils are an important part of the Meditteranean diet. Tuscan bean salad or houmous are a healthy base for any lunchtime.
  • Go nuts – nuts and seeds make an ideal snack to keep you going.
  • Eat less red meat, have fish at least 2 or 3 times a week and eat a little good quality poultry.
  • And of course, probably what many folk think of when they envisage the French, Italian or Spanish diet is a glass of claret, merlot or Rioja…so enjoy a glass of red wine in moderation, as part of your healthy Mediterranean diet.

Its not just what they eat, but how they eat in the Med. Food is given high priority, mealtimes are savoured and good food is shared with friends and enjoyed in moderation.

Eat Well on a Budget

Today’s headlines from Safe Food suggest that low income households in Northern Ireland need to spend at least a third of their weekly income to buy healthy food. Here at Vital Nutrition, we work with lots of community groups and individuals struggling to make ends meet on lower incomes. With careful planning and a little imagination, it is possible (and enjoyable!) to eat well on a budget.Here’s a few ideas for you:

1. Be a savvy shopper. Look out for the cost per kg instead of the cost per unit, as you can often make big savings this way – especially on fruit and veg. Don’t be tempted by 3 for 2 offers, as they are often on expensive products and usually means you buy more than you want to.

2. Check out the frozen food aisle for frozen vegetables, fruit and fish. We have come a long way from frozen peas and there is now a big range of great vegetables available to steam, stirfy or roast. Berries and cherries are often  expensive to buy fresh, but can be very economical to buy the frozen version, and there is less waste.

3. If you can, shop at the end of the day when stock tends to be reduced if it is close to the sell by date. This food is still perfectly healthy and can keep for ages in your fridge.

4. Buy fresh foods such as fruit, vegetables and meats in small amounts and more often since they go off easily.

5. Shop locally. Contrary to popular belief, local butchers, greengrocers and bakeries can be cheaper than the big supermarkets.

6. Bulk out stew, bolognese, chilli and curry with pulses like chickpeas, butter beans or lentils to eke out another portion or two. I like to add puy lentils, a leek, peppers, onion and carrot to my spag bol and use less meat, which tends to be the most expensive ingredient.

7. Use your freezer and freeze leftovers in portion size.

8. Use “generic” supermarket brands instead of classic brands. They often contain the same ingredients but are cheaper.

9. Eat more fish! Fish tends to be very economical, especially if you choose less popular types like pollock and mackerel, rather than cod and salmon. Wrap in some foil with a few herbs from a pot in your garden & serve with new potatoes and steamed veg.

10. Make a shopping list to plan your meals and stick to it!