The Mediterranean Diet, sometimes known as the Med Diet, is a food and lifestyle habit based on countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. This consists of eating food that is low in saturated fats but high in vegetable oils, whole grains, nuts and legumes, seafood, and moderate amounts of alcohol (with wine being the preference).
According to the British Medical Journal, following this type of diet is good for brain health as it can lower chances of developing Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. It can also reduce risks in cardiovascular-related issues due to the cuisine components’ low-cholesterol content. Despite the diet usually being associated with European cuisine north of the Sea, Middle Eastern cuisine from countries such as Turkey and Egypt are also a huge part of this food habit that has taken the world by storm. It shares most of the food groups linked with the Med Diet such as grains and legumes and seafood.
Olive oil and fish are primary sources of fats in Middle Eastern cuisine, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic, eicosapentaenoic, and docosahexaenoic). Alpha-linolenic acid is an essential fatty acid that our bodies cannot produce, which means that consuming food with omega-3 is the only method to acquire it. To get your dose of omega-3 from olive oil, why not whip up your very own hummus dip? Blend together some chickpeas, tahini (ground sesame seeds), and olive oil, then serve it with some toasted pita bread and you’re good to go!
Meat dishes consist mostly of poultry, lamb or beef. Pork meat is excluded as it is considered as non-halal (or haram, meaning forbidden) in Islamic law. Using lean meats in dishes lowers the intake of saturated fats, which can contribute to an increase in cholesterol levels. Shawarma, shish tawook, and kofta are some meat-based dishes that you can try.
For the vegetarians out there – fret not, we’ve got you. To get that Middle Eastern cuisine experience without the meat, you can go for fattoush (a bread salad made with pita, tomatoes, mint, and cucumbers) and tabbouleh (a mix of parsley, tomatoes, onion, mint, and bulgur cereal). As with most Mediterranean foodstuff, both salads would not be considered complete without a good serving of olive oil.
Dairy dishes are usually taken in moderation, but this doesn’t mean that Middle Eastern cuisine is without it. There’s halloumi, a semi-soft white cheese made from goat’s or sheep’s milk. It can be served fresh or grilled, with the latter being a popular type of snack. Halloumi can also be garnished on salads like fattoush and tabbouleh, or even shawarma. There’s also Egyptian bread pudding or umm ali, a dessert dish made with pastry, milk, and nuts.
If dairy is to be taken in moderation for the Med Diet, sugar or sweets are to be sparingly consumed. But who doesn’t love a good dessert? If you’re a foodie but don’t know much about Middle Eastern cuisine, you may have still heard of baklava, a pastry made with chopped nuts and honey. If not, you may be interested in knafeh: another dessert pastry made with layers of dough, cream, and syrup; or dogh, a yogurt-based drink.
Following a diet can be caused by a variety of reasons, be it cultural, medical, or as a lifestyle. Should going on the Med Diet or following Middle Eastern cuisine be of interest to you, consider a few factors before starting. Is the diet compatible with your medical history? Do you have enough eating or grocery options in your area to sustain your diet? Will the diet go for only a period of time or is this a permanent change of habit? Going on a diet can provide great benefits such as weight loss and improved health, but as with all things to be consumed, remember: moderation is important.