The Mediterranean Diet: the key benefits and what to eat if you're following it

The benefits of following the Mediterranean Diet have long been lauded - and now there's a new reason for women who have gone through the menopause to pay attention.

the mediterranean diet
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Research suggests that the popular diet,where you mainly eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and olive oil, can be 'useful' when it comes to a common post-menopausal problem, namely reduced bone density - a key factor in the development of osteoporosis.

Presented at the Endocrine Society's 100th annual meeting in Chicago, the study of 100 women with an average age of 55 reported both a higher bone mass and higher muscle mass in post-menopausal women who followed the Mediterranean Diet, compared to those who did not.

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Women who have been through the menopause can suffer from a loss of bone mass, due to a decline in oestrogen and have a risk of developing osteoporosis. Lower muscle mass is also common in older people and can lead to an increase in illness and quality of life.

Can the Mediterranean diet help with dementia?

There's more good news for anyone considering following the Mediterranean diet, as a previous studyalso revealed that it can help to protect against the dementia and improve brain health.

Research conducted for the study from University of Edinburgh has said that there is mounting evidence that a diet rich in oily fish, fruit and vegetables, and nuts, could help you maintain memory as you age.

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As we get older, our brains shrink by one or two percent each year, which results in a decreased ability to learn new things and retain memories. But it's believed, from this research, that a Mediterranean Diet could help to slow down this process.

And that's not all. A study funded by the World Cancer Research Fund, has also found that women who eat a mostly Mediterranean diet have a 40 per cent reduced risk of oestrogen-receptor negative breast cancer.

So what is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean Diet is said to be one of the world's healthiest diets, and could easily help with shifting stubborn pounds.

In their book The Greek Diet (a form of the Mediterranean Diet), Greek chef and restaurateur Maria Loi and Olympic-level athlete turned health journalist Sarah Toland propose a diet plan that's both sustainable and gets results.

Inspired by the Ancient Greek civilisation who lived by the philosophy metron ariston ('everything in moderation'), The Greek Diet advocates drinking wine and encourages you to add another few glugs of olive oil to your food.

The diet is organised into 'Twelve Pillar Foods'. In each section, Maria and Sarah share their expertise on each food group; Maria tells her experiences of food during her childhood in Greece, and Sarah adds scientific explanations as to why these simple traditions of Greek village life will assist with weight loss.

Intrigued? Read on to find out how some of these pillars could pave the way to better brain health and sustainable weight loss...

Make Greek yoghurt your guilty pleasure

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Make Greek yoghurt your guilty pleasure

Full of calcium, protein and healthy bacteria, Greek yoghurt has a versatile taste and texture. Add it to savoury dishes as a dressing on salad or add honey and fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth. 'Some people drink sugary sodas or eat sweets to pick themselves up - I eat yoghurt!', Maria says. 'Our family ate a lot of tzatziki, a traditional Greek yoghurt sauce made with cucumbers, olive oil, lemon juice, herbs and a touch of vinegar. They say that if you want your food to taste better, you eat tzatziki because the combination of yoghurt and cucumber opens up your palette and enhances the flavour of food.'

Fibrous fruit

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Fibrous fruit

'Despite what some fad diets say, no one ever got fat eating fruit. While fruit contains sugar, it's a healthier sugar than what you find in any packaged, processed food. Fruit is a fantastic source of the kind of natural fibers shown to make us feel full while lowering our blood-sugar levels', says Maria. For even more weight-loss advice and delicious recipes, buy The Greek Diet (Harper Collins; £15.99)

Rethink your intake of chicken and eggs

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Rethink your intake of chicken and eggs

'Long-term and large-scale population studies suggest diets high in animal meat, including poultry, have been shown to inrease the risk of obesity. That said, poultry still has a place in The Greek Diet and should be consumed the way the ancient Greeks did, eating chicken as a regular side or occasional main', Maria and Sarah say. Try swapping chicken for eggs instead. 'Using eggs as a protein source for breakfast, lunch and dinner will help you lose weight more quickly'.

Snack on nuts and seeds

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Snack on nuts and seeds

Nuts have an unfair reputation when it comes to weight-loss. Most dieters think they should be avoided due to a high fat content, but Maria and Sarah say that's simply not the case. 'They are nature's healthiest snack', Maria says. 'We feel so strongly about nuts, in fact, that we believe if everyone swapped a handful of nuts for processed snacks...most of us would drop five pounds in a month's time.'

Add another lug of olive oil

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Add another lug of olive oil

It may seem a little counterintuitive to increase the amount of olive oil you consume on a weight loss plan. It is a fat, after all. However, studies have proven that by eliminating all other fats from your diet, including butter, and replacing them with olive oil can help your body burn fat, curb your appetite, increase your metabolism and trigger weight loss. 'Olive oil isn't just the healthiest oil, it is also the tastiest oil!', says chef, Maria Loi. 'The question shouldn't be, 'What do you use olive oil for?' - it should be, 'What don't you use olive oil for?''

Seafood as a staple

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Seafood as a staple

'Without a doubt, seafood is the healthiest animal protein you can eat. Not only does eating more fish and shellfish help improve the health of your heart, brain, skin, eyes, and muscles, along with boosting your memory, focus, and longevity, seafood contains essential fats our bodies NEED to burn fat and lose weight', says Maria. 'When you have fresh seafood, you need to do very little to make a healthy, nutritious meal.'

Coffee and tea: choose carefully

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Coffee and tea: choose carefully

While drinking caffeinated coffee and tea is proven to increase metabolism through stimulating the central nervous system, The Greek Dietwarns its readers off coffee and tea variations that can be worse for weight loss than a slice of cake. 'Drinking coffee and tea on The Greek Diet will help you lose weight. But drinking coffee or tea drinks - lattes, frappes, mochas, cappuccinos and chais - will cause you to gain weight. These speciality drinks are packed with so much sugar and so many calories that coffee and tea's fat-burning properties are quickly negated.'

Fill up on beans

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Fill up on beans

Beans should account for a large portion of your everyday diet. They will keep you feeling full after mealtimes and reduce cravings for refined carbohydrates. 'When it comes to naturally occuring fibre, you need two types to help lose weight: soluble and insoluble fibre. No other single food has more of both of these types than beans.'

Fat-fighting herbs and spices

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Fat-fighting herbs and spices

The most important ingredients in your kitchen are often only relied upon to give a finishing flourish. 'Stop thinking of herbs and spices as what you add to food, but as what you need in food to lose weight. Herbs and spices play an important role in fighting fat', Maria says.