Many ‘quick fix’ diets can prove detrimental to your health long-term but, conversely, the Mediterranean Diet has a very positive impact on your overall health.

So, as 29 September marks World Heart Day, what better time to highlight the benefits of a healthy diet? After all, it’s no secret that a healthy lifestyle can have direct benefits on your overall heart health.

Diet and nutrition have overtaken smoking as the leading cause of chronic disease. Research has found that a typical western dietary pattern, which is characteristically high in free sugars, salt, saturated fat, and ultra-processed food, increases risk of early death, illness and disability.

However, the Mediterranean Diet has been found to reduce these risks. Here, the Charity’s Health Improvement Lead, Dr Greg Lessons, reveals how it could benefit your health and some top tips to follow:

  1. Eating in alignment with the Mediterranean Diet has been shown to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and several cancers.
  2. The Mediterranean Diet does not exclude any food groups, making it a highly acceptable healthy dietary pattern.
  3. Whilst we can still ‘treat’ ourselves occasionally, adhering to the diet’s key principles around 80% of the time will bring significant health benefits.

With that in mind, here are some key tips to follow:

  1. Consume at least 5 portions of fruit and veg per day (more if possible). Try introducing side salads and including more fruit and veg in your main meals (such as replacing some of the meat in a spaghetti bolognese/curry/chilli with mushrooms, onions, celery, beans, pulses, carrots and peppers). Replacing your usual snacks with fruit is a sure winner too.
  2. Stay hydrated with water, avoid sugary drinks and limit alcohol to a maximum of 14 units per week.
  3. Choose wholegrains (such as rolled oats, brown rice, wholewheat pasta, wholemeal bread, bulgar wheat and quinoa) instead of refined grains (such as sugary cereals, white rice, white pasta and white bread).
  4. If you’re a red meat eater, try to replace some of it with seafood (especially oily fish), eggs and poultry most of the time. Remember to include plant-based sources of protein such as beans, peas, nuts and seeds throughout too.
  5. Eat red meat sparingly (3 servings/500g per week maximum) and try to minimise/eliminate processed meats from your diet.
  6. Include a small-to-moderate amount (3 portions per day) of dairy products, limiting whole fat milk and cheese to very small amounts.
  7. Limit your intake of free sugars to very small amounts. Do not add salt in cooking or at the table. Free sugars and salt are overly consumed in the typical Western diet.
  8. Increase your fibre intake to obtain the recommendation of 30g per day. Fruit, veg and wholegrains are the main sources, with beans and pulses being very high in fibre.
  9. Include sources of healthy unsaturated fat including olive and rapeseed oils, oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout and herring), nuts, seeds and avocado.
  10. Prepare meals from scratch. Avoid ultra-processed foods as much as possible.