Before we get into it, let’s clarify what’s meant by the word “diet” here. It refers to a particular way of eating which encourages a long, healthy life. It doesn’t mean an extreme way of eating in order to lose drastic amounts of weight.
Sure, if weight loss is part of your long-term health journey, fantastic! These diets will absolutely help you to get there. But the primary goal is to live a long and healthy life.
There’s a lot of “noise” in the world regarding “beach bodies” and reaching that Instagram body image, and it’s tiresome and quite often a huge scam. This article is all about eating in a way that nourishes, fuels and replenishes the body so you can be strong, fit, healthy and thriving for decades to come.
1. Mediterranean Diet: the heart-loving diet inspired by Mediterranean tradition
The “Med Diet” is inspired by the Mediterranean tradition of eating healthy fats (especially olive oil), lean proteins (fish and poultry), fresh veggies, nuts and whole grains. Oh, and a glass of delicious red wine thank you very much.
The Mediterranean diet is a heart-focused diet which helps to lower bad cholesterol by reducing the intake of red meats, salt and saturated fats (butter and animal fats). It’s more than a diet, it’s a lifestyle which celebrates enjoying the cooking, sharing and eating of a healthy meal, complete with a glass of red wine (yay!). By taking time to enjoy food slowly, you’ll be less likely to overeat. What’s more, relaxing in the company of loved ones over a lovely meal is a great way to reduce stress!
The Med diet is wonderful for the heart, skin, energy levels and general longevity. It heroes the most health-loving foods: fresh produce, healthy fats, high-fiber legumes and oily fish. It regulates the not-so-great things: animal fats, salts and processed foods.
- Eat plenty of fresh veggies and fruits
- Eat nuts, seeds, beans, chickpeas and lentils
- Think of your meals as mostly plant-based, with meats or proteins as an accompaniment, not the other way around
- Reduce your salt intake
- Use olive oil for cooking and dressing
- Limit butter, cream and fatty meats
- Eat plenty of fish
- Reserve red meat as an occasional treat
- Enjoy a glass of red wine over dinner
- Make time to enjoy your food slowly
- Make mealtimes a time to connect with loved ones
2. Low-sugar: eliminate hidden sugars, choose whole foods and enjoy an occasional treat
There’s no escaping the fact that sugar isn’t our friend. Sure, the odd treat here and there is completely fine. But when sugar sneaks into every meal (often unknown to you), the effects are unpleasant indeed.
The reason I haven’t gone ahead with an all-out “sugar-free” diet suggestion is that it’s not realistic. For example, fruits contain natural sugars and you shouldn’t cut out fruits. Plus, an occasional piece of cake or dessert when out for dinner is 100% fine (and delicious). But when sugar sneaks into your everyday life, that’s when the trouble starts. When you consume too much sugar, your teeth suffer, your energy levels spike and fall, and you increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity and more.
- Cut out sugary drinks (soda, juice, energy drinks)
- Don’t add sugar to your tea and coffee
- Make sauces and condiments from scratch (store-bought sauces are laden with sugar)
- Don’t fall for “fat free” foods, they’re likely filled with sugar
- Reserve sweet treats and desserts for special occasions
- Eat whole foods with minimal processing. Stick to food which is as close to the source as possible
- Choose fat and protein-rich snacks such as nuts, seeds, tuna, eggs (steer clear of fruity yogurts and dried fruits)
- Beware of packaged breakfast foods and stick to whole foods such as eggs, oats, unsweetened Greek yoghurt and fresh fruit
3. Low-Carb: eat more fiber, fewer processed carbs and do your blood sugar levels and longevity a favour
We’re not talking ketogenic (ultra low carb diet), we’re simply talking about a lower carb intake. Foods such as processed white bread, pasta, white rice and baked goods (“simple carbs”) are all great very occasionally. But when they’re eaten regularly, they can upset your blood sugar levels and cause weight gain. Lots of processed starchy carbs can contribute to fat around your abdomen which can lead to heart disease and type 2 Diabetes.
The answer is not to cut carbs entirely, but to choose them wisely and make them part of the chorus and not the lead role, so to speak.
It’s surprisingly easy to lower your carb intake. For example, if you love eggs on toast for breakfast, simply have one slice rather than two. Love rice with your dinner? Swap it out for cauliflower rice sauteed with garlic and olive oil. Love pasta? Try your favourite pasta sauce recipe served with spaghetti squash. Love French fries? Well…have them, but occasionally!
Eat carbs which are high in fiber and are as close to the source as possible (i.e. sweet potatoes, brown rice, legumes, quinoa, aka “complex carbs”). And finally, be mindful of portion sizes and stick to them. Fill your plate with fresh produce first, lean protein second, and a small portion of whole carbs last.
- Keep starchy carbs to a minimum and choose high-fiber carbs such as beans and lentils instead
- Reserve pasta and baked goods for an occasional indulgence
- Choose grainy sourdough bread, brown rice and wholemeal pasta when you’re craving higher-carb foods
- Up your healthy fat intake with cold-pressed oils, nuts, seeds, fish and avocado
- Eat more protein such as eggs, tofu, lean meats, fish and legumes
The common thread between all three of these diets is whole, fresh foods. By avoiding processed, packaged foods and keeping sugar and starchy carbs to “occasional treat status”, you’ll really increase your chances for a long and healthy life. You really can’t go wrong with fresh veggies and fruits, fish, poultry, nuts, seeds, full-fat dairy, legumes and whole grains.