Mediterranean DietFor many many years we have been told that the Mediterranean way of eating is one of the healthiest in the world. Medically it has been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and in some more recent studies it was also shown to reduce the onset of some cancers and to reduce the occurrence of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases.

This diet is based on foods from Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Southern Italy, Greece, Portugal and Southern France. Some of the principal foods consumed in these countries are Lemons (Limones), Peppers (Pimientos), Parsley(Perejil), Garlic (Ajo), Saffron (Azafrán), Onions (Cebollas), Olive Oil (Aceite de Oliva), Tomatoes (Tomates), Fresh Fish (Pescado Fresco) and Red Wine (Vino Tinto). As well as being very flavoursome, these foods also have many major health benefits.

 

Lemons (Limones)

LemonsIt is thought but not proven, that lemons originated from India, China and Burma and then in the 1st Century AD, entered Europe via Italy. But one thing that cannot be denied, is the many natural health benefits that this wonder fruit provides.

Pure lemon juice is full of antioxidants and anti cancer properties. This is why it has been used for many centuries to cure many ailments.

It is fantastic at strengthening the immune system, thus helping to fight off other illnesses.

It can be used to provide quick relief to Asthma, can reduce nausea and all types of sickness and it is also one of the oldest and most effective remedies to treat coughs and colds.

Parsley (Perejil)

Parsley is the herb most commonly used in cooking. But did you know it is rich in so many vitamins and minerals?

Vitamin A, Vitamin K and several B Vitamins are all found in Parsley and many people don't actually realise that it contains more Vitamin C than most citrus fruits!

As well as all those vitamins it also contains a whole host of other essential minerals, including calcium, potassium, iron, magnesium, iodine and copper.

There are endless benefits in eating parsley, that can help your body both internally and externally. A few of the benefits include the fact that Parsley is an excellent breath freshener, It strengthens and cleanses the kidneys, It helps bladder and urinary tract infections and It can help to protect your body against cardiovascular and heart disease. On top of that, it can help relieve bloating, flatulence, indigestion and water retention.

Garlic ClovesGarlic (Ajo)

Garlic is believed to have been grown in England before 1548 but was very rarely used in English cuisine. It has always been a much more common ingredient in Mediterranean dishes.

Nowadays garlic is widely used in many recipes and it's a good job too as it is one of the most valuable and versatile foods on earth. Garlic belongs to the group of vegetables known as Allium. This group also includes onions, shallots, leeks and chives.

Garlic today, is widely recognized as a health enhancing supplement. With it's antioxidant properties it promotes the well-being of the heart, by reducing cholesterol and it also helps boosts the immune system as well as helping to maintain healthy blood circulation.

The active ingredient within garlic is Allicin. Allicin is the chemical that is produced when garlic is chopped, bruised or chewed. It is quite powerful as an antibiotic and it is in fact said that 1 milligram of allicin has a potency of 15 standard units of penicillin.

Saffron (Azafrán)

Saffron comes from the stigmas of the crocus flower (Crocus Sativus), that originates from Western Asia and the Mediterranean. It has for a very long time, been the most expensive spice (by weight) in the world. Ten times even more costly than Vanilla.This is because it's production is very time consuming and because it takes 80,000 crocus flowers to make a mere 500 grams of saffron after toasting!

Saffron is primarily used as a seasoning or colouring agent for cooking but it also has many health benefits that make it one of nature's most powerful herbs.

So what are the health benefits related to taking Saffron? Well, it helps to lower levels of bad cholesterol and when applied as a paste it can relieve dry skin and many other skin conditions. When combined with other herbs it can help cure coughing, indigestion, flatulence and insomnia.

Because of these health benefits and many others, you can understand why herbalist and natural health enthusiasts think saffron is worth it's weight in gold!

Peppers (Pimientos)

Green PeppersAll peppers are rich in vitamins A, C and K but red peppers in particular are simply full to the brim with them. Vitamins A and C are antioxidants and help to support the immune system. They also help prevent cell damage, diseases related to aging and can also help reduce inflammation like that found in arthritis.

Vitamin K strengthens bones, helps the blood to clot properly and helps protect cells from oxidative damage.

Red peppers are also a good source of the carotenoid called lycopene. This is building a reputation as being able to help in the prevention of prostate, bladder, cervix and pancreatic cancers.

Another carotenoid found in red peppers is Beta-cryptoxanthin. This is showing real promise in helping to prevent lung cancer.

Onions (Cebollas)

Onions are added to many a dish and it's a good job too considering all the health benefits linked to them.

Onions are part of the allium family, which also include garlic, shallots, leeks and chives.With their unique combination of flavonoids and sulfur-containing nutrients, onions should be included in your diet on a regular basis. There's evidence that including at least one serving of an allium vegetable, such as onions, in your meal plan every day can help alleviate many health problems.

One strange health fact about the onion, is that by chewing raw onion, you can actually improve the strength of your teeth and fight off bacteria that causes your teeth to decay.

Onions contain the plant-derived flavonoids called quercetin. These help to boost the immune system whilst preventing the development of tumours.

Onions can also help blood clots from forming, which ensures that your blood circulates properly. By preventing clogging and blood clots in arteries, you are lowering the risk of heart attacks.

Another property of the onion is the essential mineral known as chromium. Chromium is thought to help maintain normal blood sugar and insulin levels.

Olive Oil (Aceite de Oliva)

Olive oil is one of the prime components of the Mediterranean diet and is the greatest exponent of monounsaturated fat. Olive oil is a natural juice that holds onto the aroma, taste, vitamins and other properties of the fruit.

The many health benefits of olive oil derive from both it's high content of antioxidative ingredients and it's high content of monounsaturated fatty acids.

The stomach tolerates olive oil really well meaning it can be beneficial in helping to ease ulcers and gastritis. Studies have also proved that olive oil helps control bad cholesterol levels (LDL), while raising the good cholesterol levels (HDL) , thus helping to protect against heart disease.

Red TomatoesTomatoes (Tomates)

Tomatoes are classed as a fruit, not a vegetable as many believe and this little red fruit benefits your health in many ways.

Tomatoes contain a lot of vitamins, especially vitamins A and C, this is because of the amount of beta-carotene present. These vitamins act as an anti-oxidant, working to neutralise dangerous free radicals in the blood stream.The redder in colour the tomato the more beta- carotene it contains and remember raw tomatoes are more beneficial as cooking destroys vitamin C.

Tomatoes also contain plenty of mineral chromium. This means that by eating tomatoes, diabetics can help keep their blood sugar levels under control.

Eating tomatoes without the seeds has also, in some studies, shown to lower the risk of kidney stones and gallstones.

Various other studies have shown that because of the levels of Lycopene found in tomatoes, they help lower mens chances of getting stomach cancer and prostate cancer. Lycopene is thought of as a natural miracle anti-oxidant that may help to stop the growth of cancer cells. Surprisingly enough though this time cooked tomatoes produce more lycopene than raw tomatoes, so get cooking!

Fresh Fish (Pescado Fresco)

Omega-3 fatty acids or 'good fats' are important to our well being but unfortunately the human body is unable to produce the amounts we need. That is why fresh fish is an essential part of our diet. Fish is high in protein, low in fat and provides a whole range of health benefits. White-fleshed fish, in particular, is lower in fat than any other source of protein and oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids or the "good" fats.

Growing evidence has shown that omega-3 fatty acids provide a us with a number of health benefits. They can help to maintain our cardiovascular health, by helping to regulate blood clotting, they are also important for prenatal and postnatal neurological development. It is also believed that they may help reduce tissue inflammation and relieve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. If this wasn't enough, they are also said to play a part in reducing depression and stopping mental decline in older people.

Red Wine

According to archeological research, red wine has been used for medicinal purposes since 3150 B.C and up until the 18th century, it was thought that wine was safer to drink than water.

Glass of Red WineA majority of experts agree that red wine can have some health benefits when drunk in moderation and as part of a healthy diet. Moderation means women should drink one five ounce glass per day and men two five ounce glasses.

So what health benefits can red wine give us? Well firstly, red wine can actually help with sleep as it contains a key antioxidant ingredient called melatonin. Melatonin regulates your internal clock meaning you sleep better. As well as helping with sleep, melatonin can also help to prevent cancer.

Drinking a moderate amount of red wine can also be good for your heart. This is because red wine contains another antioxidant called flavonoids. This antioxidant helps raise HDL levels (good cholesterol) that we all want and lower LDL levels (bad cholesterol) that we don't want.

The antioxidants in red wine are not only good for the heart but good for the rest of our body as well. They can amazingly repair cells that have become damaged by free radicals and can also reduce the risk of some diseases such as diabetes and certain forms of cancer.

For most, drinking red wine can be a good thing as it is a natural tranquilizer. This means it can help your body relax, thus reducing stress and anxiety. It is good to remember though, that drinking more than the recommended amounts of wine can have a reversed effect.

Images courtesy of YoungToymaker, Epsos.de and Carlos Lorenzo on Flickr.

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