Health tips – Small changes with big effects. 5. Eat a Mediterranean-style Diet

The 5th article in our small changes with big effects series.

Eat a Mediterranean-style diet

Image ©Jason Raish

Some of the components of the Mediterranean diet (such as oily fish and the olive oil) have a well-established anti-inflammatory effect, and there is mounting evidence that many cases of depression and anxiety may be linked to brain inflammation. But the foods that make up the Mediterranean diet also boost ‘good’ bacteria in your gut, and they, in turn, produce their own anti-inflammatory compounds. Foods which have a positive effect on our mood are called ‘psychobiotics’.

As part of a podcast series I’ve made for the BBC called Just One Thing, I interviewed Dr Kirsten Berding Harold, a researcher from University College Cork, who is part of a team who first coined the word, ‘psychobiotics’.

In one of her most recent studies she asked a group of volunteers to eat what she calls, ‘microbiota-friendly food’, which included more wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, but also fermented foods like kefir (a form of fermented yoghurt), which are rich in probiotics.

Their mood and microbiota were tested at the beginning and end of the study, and there were some impressive changes. Not only did their microbiome change, but as Kirsten explained, “after four weeks on the diet they felt a lot less stressed and had an improved mood. So the preliminary results suggest that it really does help your mood and mental health to eat a diet that is microbiota friendly.”

Read Dr Mosley’s full advice on psychobiotic foods

Heart UK Says:

Basing your diet on the foods people eat in the Mediterranean is a great way to look after your heart.

We have known for some time that people living in countries along the Mediterranean appear to have less heart disease than people living in the UK and northern Europe.

Health professionals now believe that this may be partly due to the foods that make up the traditional Mediterranean way of eating.

The Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods. This is now seen as a good way of eating – both for a healthy heart and for general well-being.

The UK’s own eat well guide is made up of similar foods and in similar amounts.

Patient says:

The word Mediterranean refers to the origins of the diet, rather than to specific foods such as Greek or Italian foods.

Using a wide range of fruits and vegetables gives the body maximum access to sources of vitamins, minerals and other trace nutrients. There are individual foods within the Mediterranean Diet which are particularly beneficial to health, such as olive oil, garlic and some fruits and vegetables. However, overall it is the combination of foods within a healthy lifestyle which is linked to improved health.

The overuse of salt in flavouring Western-style meals and fast foods has been linked with increased blood pressure. The healthy alternative is to replace the excess salt with herbs and also garlic, as Mediterranean people have done for many years. This can also add new flavours to quite simple pasta dishes, rice dishes and stews.

The Mediterranean Diet is rich in vegetables, fruit, peas and beans (legumes) and grains. It also contains moderate amounts of chicken and fish. There is little red meat and most fat is unsaturated and comes from olive oil and nuts. Having a small amount of red wine has been shown to increase the health benefits. (Full Patient info see link below)

other recommended healthy diet advice:

BBC Goodfood – Why is the Mediterranean diet so healthy?

Patient – Mediterranean Diet


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