A No-nonsense Nutritionist in Paris on Why the Mediterranean Diet Works

A No-nonsense Nutritionist in Paris on Why the Mediterranean Diet Works

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Mediterranean diet
© Brokke Lark/Unsplash

January is usually the most extreme month when it comes to diets. A ‘silly’ month of purging, detoxing and elimination (cue lots of eye-rolling from dieticians and nutritionists!) which are bad for our health and damaging to our body image.

Research indicates that one of the best dietary patterns for our health is the Mediterranean diet. It has consistently been nominated as the healthiest diet for seven years in a row. While it has been around for centuries, the term was coined in the 1960’s following the research on cardiovascular disease by Ancel Keys.

With its focus on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, beans and lentils, nuts, and seeds, it is a win both for our health and the environment.

It conjures up images of beaches, sea and sun, and countries around the Mediterranean Sea, but the traditional cuisines of other countries, such as Japan and the Nordic countries, share similar food patterns.

The Mediterranean diet aligns perfectly with the key food trends predicted for 2024, which continue to focus on plant-based and natural foods.

Read more here from Charlotte Debeugny – a no-nonsense nutritionist – about how a healthy diet can slow down the aging process.

No-nonsense nutritionist Charlotte Debeugny in Paris. Photo courtesy of author.

Plant-based and Mediterranean diets

The Mediterranean diet is naturally plant-based. Think of those sun-ripened tomatoes, glossy aubergines, and gleaming salad leaves! It recommends at least 5 fruit and vegetables a day, which combined with the cereals and beans, accounts for 80% of the food consumed.

What about the Mediterranean diet and animal products?

The Mediterranean diet does include dairy products, as well as fish and low-fat protein (so think ‘flexitarian’ as opposed to ‘vegan’).  There is no doubt that eating less dairy and meat is better for the environment and animal welfare. However, the nutrition research concludes that a vegan diet is not necessarily better for our health than a balanced diet which contains moderate amounts of animal protein (it is one of the sources of long and very heated debates I have with one of my children who is vegan…).

Vegan food
Photo courtesy Wild & the Moon

Vegan diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and higher in fiber, so there is a lower risk of digestive tract disorders and cardiovascular disease. But this is offset against a higher risk of bone fractures due to lower calcium intake. The calcium found in plants is often harder to absorb, given that plants also contain substances called oxalates and phytates, which block calcium absorption.

And – news flash – there is also currently no evidence that dairy (in moderate quantities) is bad for health, so unless you really have to avoid it, you can continue to enjoy dairy products as part of your diet.

winter recipes
Familiar end-of-season produce can still brighten up dinner meals. © Molly Pisula

Natural foods and the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is based on natural and unprocessed foods – simple recipes, fresh herbs and spices and olive oil – all the ingredients needed to produce quick and delicious meals.

There has been a lot of discussion in the media lately about ultra-processed foods and health. Most foods are processed in some way, but there is a clear difference between minimally processed foods (for example, canned or cooked) and foods that have undergone multiple processing and have added ingredients, such as fizzy drinks and sweets.

A high intake of ultra-processed foods is associated with worse health outcomes. The science highlights that this could be because they are replacing more nutritious foods, that they are easy to eat in large quantities (so a potential impact on weight) and because they contain additives and other ingredients that are not used in home cooking. More research is required to fully understand exactly what the causes are, but it does make sense to limit our intake of ultra-processed foods.

© sambazon/Unsplash

So, if you’re looking to change the way you eat in 2024, you really cannot go wrong with following a Mediterranean-style approach. It is plant-based and natural, both key elements for a balanced and healthy diet. It is also a kinder, more sensible, and sustainable approach than ‘hardcore’ restriction, which is based more on punishment than nourishment.

This approach also acknowledges the other pillars that are so important for our health and are a key part of the Mediterranean lifestyle – social connections, regular movement, fresh air, and sleep. So, it is no surprise that it consistently been voted the best diet for our health!

Learn more about nutritionist Charlotte Debeugny and her no-nonsense approach to healthy eating. Click here.

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