How to follow the Mediterranean diet

Yahoo Lifestyle

The Mediterranean Diet has been credited with plenty of health benefits and eating more like our southern European cousins looks likely to significantly improve our health, wellbeing and longevity.

A new study released today claims women who follow the diet are 40 per cent more likely to live past the age of 70, further proving the immense health benefits of this way of eating.

Rather than a strict 'diet', it's more a way of life that leans towards healthier food choices forever rather than quick fixes or a focus on losing weight.

As it's not a strict meal plan, it's easier to look at the principles of the diet and make your food choices based on them.

According to the NHS Mediterranean diets are typically:

• high in legumes such as beans and peas
• high in cereals
• high in fruits and vegetables
• high in fish
• a high monounsaturated fat to saturated fat ratio
• moderate alcohol intake
• low in meat and meat products
• low in milk and dairy products

[Related: Could a Mediterranean diet improve your sex life?]

Everyday ways to go Mediterranean:

Bulk up your veggie intake
It's not just children that can benefit from hidden veg. Adding extra vegetables to meals improves their health credentials and makes meat and other more expensive products go further.

Try, for example, adding lentils to your lamb in a shepherd's pie, or grated carrot to mince for bolognaise.

Beans, peas and other legumes are a huge part of the Med diet so try and include a portion with your evening meal and expand your veg portions.

Add a few extra slices of carrot and reduce the size of your meat or dairy element.

Reduce your meat
You don't need to go vegetarian to benefit from a more vegetable-focused diet.

Instead, slightly reduce the size of your meat portions and opt for unprocessed meats such as stewing steak or chicken thighs rather than ham or sausages. This will reduce the amount of unhealthy preservatives you consume.

An ideal-sized meat portion is about the size of a pack of cards.

[Related: Good fat in avocados helps heart]

Eat more fish
Fish, both oily and lean, is great for you, packed with nutrients, good oils and thought to even reduce levels of bad fats in the blood.

If you're concerned about sustainability (and let's face it, we all should be) check out the Good Fish Guide from the Marine Conservation Agency before you buy. Aim to get at least two portions of oily fish a week (sardines, salmon, trout, fresh tuna) and two of lean (sole, haddock, seabass,swordfish).

With the popularity of diets such as Atkins and Dukan, cereals, which are carbohydrates, are often left out of people's diets.

Actually studies have shown that people who regularly eat cereals have a healthier BMI on average than those who don't.

Wholegrain cereals are packed with nutrients and are a vital source of energy as well as fibre. Go for brown bread, rice and pasta and try exchanging starchy white potatoes for sweet potatoes or yams.

[Related: The super-slimming food 95 per cent of us miss out on]

Good oil
Just because it's fat doesn't mean you need to cut oil out.

'Good' oils such as olive, rapeseed and hemp are what the Mediterranean diet is based on and helps the body absorb more nutrients from foods such as salad vegetables.

Snack on nuts
Yep, it's time for the traditional diet advice to make like a squirrel and snack on nuts and seeds. They're packed with healthy oils, will keep you full up and are great for skin, hair and nails. But don't overdo it as they are still high in calories, albeit nutritious ones.

Not a big focus of the Mediterranean diet, try to reduce the amount of even low-fat dairy you eat. Though it's important to make sure you're getting enough calcium, it's possible to get this from alternate sources such as leafy greens.

[Related: Five surprising flat stomach secrets]

Some good news, you don't have to give up your occasional alcoholic treat. Red wine especially has been linked to many health benefits and moderate drinking (one drink a day for women and two for men) is a part of the Mediterranean lifestyle.

Mediterranean recipe idea: How To Make A Mediterranean Soup With Baked Red Peppers

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