A Lighter Life

Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition and Dietetics, Dr Audrey Tierney advocates adopting a Mediterranean approach to eating.

Health and wellbeing is on the agenda at University of Limerick.

The Healthy Campus initiative at UL is committed to the health and wellbeing of students, staff and visitors through coordinating and consolidating existing and future programmes and services being offered. As part of this, the provision of healthy food options will be more readily available throughout the campus. The area of food and nutrition is further increasing with the introduction of a Master’s of Science in Human Nutrition and Dietetics course beginning in September 2018. Course director Dr Audrey Tierney’s research interests involve translating evidence base with whole of diet approaches to practice in the clinical and public health areas. When it comes to a healthy eating plan that can be sustained throughout the year, without losing out on taste and variety, she recommends adopting the traditional Mediterranean ways of eating.

Over the last few decades the Mediterranean diet has been promoted as one of the healthiest dietary patterns worldwide and has been shown to be consistently beneficial and superior in the management of many chronic diseases and for promoting long and healthy lives. Populations adhering to a Mediterranean diet have lower risk of death, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, depression and a decreased risk of dementia. The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose and waist circumference – all risk factors for diabetes and heart disease which is the leading cause of death in Ireland. The diet has been shown to outperform other diets in weight loss and controlling blood sugar levels in Type 2 Diabetes. In many countries, health and medical authorities are now promoting its use for health and disease. Whilst the majority of research has been conducted in Mediterranean countries, there is increasing evidence of its use elsewhere, with promising results.

The Mediterranean approach incorporates all the basics of healthy eating: it is rich in plant-based foods including vegetables, whole grains and fruit with the main added fat being extra virgin olive oil. The diet emphasises increased intakes of legumes, raw unsalted nuts and oily fish with moderate amounts of dairy and poultry intakes and small amounts of red meat consumption. Alcohol consumption is common in the traditional Mediterranean diet, but generally in moderation, in the form of wine and as a rule, during meals.

The diet is sustainable, it’s tasty, easy-to-follow, healthy and affordable. It promotes home cooking and food preparation but can also be easily incorporated into a busy lifestyle.

Eat the Mediterranean way

So how do you translate the traditional Mediterranean diet into a modern day Irish diet? There is no one meal plan or prescribed way to follow this diet. Of the 20 countries or so that follow a Mediterranean style eating pattern, each has slightly different versions, however there are common features and principles throughout.

  • Start by using olive oil in cooking and serving.
  • Offer vegetables with every main meal, to ensure as much variety and colour is on your plate.
  • Use herbs and spices to flavour food, look to garlic, basil, mint, rosemary, sage, cinnamon, pepper.
  • Eat legumes like beans, peas, lentils, pulses, chickpeas.
  • Increase your intake of oily fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, trout, sardines, herring to twice a week with meat and chicken consumed less often.
  • Choose wholegrain or sourdough bread rather than white bread.
  • Snack on plain Greek-style yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts daily
  • Sugar sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat and refined grains are not promoted when considering this way of eating.

Dr Audrey Tierney is a Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition and Dietetics in the School of Allied Health, University of Limerick, and adjunct Senior Lecturer at La Trobe University, Melbourne Australia.