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Mediterranean cuisine has long been considered wholesome and healthy and these days the Mediterranean Diet has become all the rage. The Diet is believed to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease and obesity, and according to the latest research, it also helps improve brain health.

Inspired by the cuisine of the Greek island of Crete, the Diet prescribes followers to consume four to five meals a day. The menu comprises plenty of whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruit and of course the crowning glory of Mediterranean cuisine – extra virgin olive oil. Fish, seafood, poultry, cheese and yoghurt are allowed in moderate portions, while refined sugars (desserts) and red meats are discouraged. Regular exercise is of course a major part of the regimen.

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid (see illustration) provides a comprehensive guide to healthy eating with clear guidelines about what to eat and when to eat it.

Although the bulk of the Diet’s menu consists of foods native to the Mediterranean coast (hence the name) items can easily be substituted with similar desi foods. Hummus can be substituted by good old chaat, while cottage cheese (paneer) is a good substitute for feta cheese. Many ingredients such as onions, garlic and tomatoes used in Pakistani cuisine are also widely used in Mediterranean dishes making the Diet fairly easy to follow.

The major difference however lies in the cooking style: desi food is cooked endlessly so it loses most of its natural flavour and nutrition. On the other hand, Mediterranean cooking methods retain the ingredients’ natural flavour and nutrition because they are not cooked so much. Although it may take time getting used to, it is definitely healthier and also relatively faster to prepare.

You will also have to get used to eating several meals with smaller portions; the Diet recommends eating slowly to aid digestion and for portion control.

Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways, the non-profit food and nutrition group that first introduced the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid said, “the Mediterranean Diet is a lifestyle where good taste meets good health.”

– Dr Summaiya Syed-Tariq
The writer is a forensic practitioner and freelance writer.

First published in the Health Advertiser Section of The DAWN National Weekend Advertiser on March 11, 2012.

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