I is for Italian: the Mediterranean Diet Part One

mediterranean dietA recent report from the ongoing European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (EPIC) Norfolk study has shown that people adhering more closely to a Mediterranean diet were less likely to suffer from heart disease, writes our guest blogger, Dr Susan Aldridge,   freelance writer and editor based in London, with an interest in medicine, health, science and food/nutrition.

The effect was small – but significant. Lead author, Dr Nita Forouhi of Cambridge University, said: “We estimate that 3.9% of all new cardiovascular disease cases or 12.5% of cardiovascular deaths in our UK based study population could potentially avoided if this population increased their adherence to the Mediterranean diet.”

[By the way, EPIC Norfolk is not just about cancer – it’s a long-running, highly respected investigation into the impact of diet on health]

The Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy eating habits of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea – France, Spain, Italy and Greece. It is typically high in cereals, fruit, vegetables, legumes, olive oil, low in red meat and moderate in dairy products, fish, poultry and wine. For more details, see the Mediterranean Diet Foundation.
Restaurant and ready meals from the Mediterranean countries are, of course, readily available in the UK. But how healthy are they? Think greasy kebabs, pizzas with thick crusts stuffed with cheese….

So I’m going to visit each of the four Mediterranean countries and come up with three new healthy recipes for any of you that want to start (or continue with) the Mediterranean diet. And I’ll include a new piece of research with each one.

Healthy Minestrone Soup

At least two servings of vegetables, and protein and carbs from the beans and pasta, makes this a main course soup. It’s also one that you can re-heat or freeze for another day.

Serves two
One onion, chopped
Three sticks of celery, chopped
Three carrots, diced
Half a green cabbage (the greener the better), shredded finely
Handful of frozen peas
One litre vegetable stock or water
400g tin of cannellini beans
80g any kind of fine/small pasta
One tbsp dried mixed herbs
Tomato puree

Fry the onion, celery and carrots in olive oil until soft. Add the stock/water and herbs with the beans. Simmer everything for about 20 mins and then add the pasta and cook for another 5 minutes. Then add the cabbage, peas and enough tomato puree to give the soup a nice orangey/red colour. Don’t blend – this is a chunky soup! Add more water/stock if it seems too thick.

Pitta Pizza

This recipe aims to invert the crust/topping ratio of the chain store/restaurant pizza by using pitta bread as a thin base and a thicker than usual vegetable topping. Again, each serving provides at least two helpings of veg – more if you serve with a salad!

Serves two
Two wholemeal pitta breads
Tomato puree
One pack mushrooms, chopped
One red pepper, chopped
One yellow or orange pepper, chopped
One red onion, chopped
One tbsp. mixed herbs
100g black/green olives
One chopped red chilli
Grated mozzarella cheese

Prepare the vegetable topping by frying the peppers and onion in olive oil till soft, then adding the mushrooms for a further 10 minutes. Set aside and warm the pitta breads on one side under the grill. Spread the other side thickly with tomato puree and then layer on the fried vegetables. Top with olives, chilli and cheese. Grill until the cheese has melted and everything has warmed through. (tip – the bread goes hard if you grill for too long!). Serve immediately.

Watercress Pesto

The basic ingredients of a pesto sauce are: something green and leafy (traditionally basil), nuts, oil and hard Italian cheese. Why buy pesto in jars, when it’s so easy to make it fresh in a blender or Nutribullet? This is a particularly nutrient-dense sauce, with omega-3 fatty acids from the oil and walnuts and lovely antioxidants in the watercress!

Serves two
One bag watercress
100ml flaxseed oil
50g walnuts
One finely chopped red chilli (optional)
One tbsp fresh grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
Blend all ingredients. Serve with pasta of your choice.

Coming soon – G is for Greek. The Mediterranean Diet Part Two

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