The Mediterranean Diet: Looking after your heart the delicious way!

According to the British Heart Foundation, heart disease accounted for 29% and 28% of deaths in men and women respectively in the UK last year. In women, that is more deaths by percentage than cancer! Definitely worth shouting about… With risk factors such as obesity on the rise, it is now more important than ever to look after your heart. A healthy diet is a great way to reduce your risk of heart disease, and the Mediterranean diet is a delicious way to do it.

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So what is the Mediterranean diet?

Having just returned from Turkey, I thought I would share with you all a little gem of information about the ‘Mediterranean Diet.’ This diet generally entails:

  • A high intake of fruit and vegetables, meeting or exceeding the current ‘5-a-day’ recommendation in the UK
  • Lots of legumes, pulses, nuts and seeds
  • Fish, especially oily fish: this lean protein source contains long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (the ‘good’ fats!)
  • A high intake of wholegrain carbohydrate, such as brown breads, rice and pasta
  • A moderate alcohol intake of 1-2 units per day
  • A low salt intake. Currently the UK recommends less than 6 grams per day, most of which is found in pre-prepared or ‘convenience’ foods

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What is so special about this diet?

I think this ‘diet’ is a great one for three reasons. Firstly, I think it is delicious. To me, that is the most important thing for the long-term maintenance of any dietary pattern. Secondly, it is all about focusing on adding things into your diet, rather than taking things away. It feels like a positive move rather than a negative restriction to your food choices. Thirdly, it basically entails general ‘healthy eating’ messages. There is nothing strange, faddy or new.

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What is the science behind it?

There is one particularly famous study, called the Lyon Heart study, which was completed in 1994. 605 men and women enrolled in the study following their first heart attack; this is a group of people with compromised heart health who are at high risk of further heart attacks or even death. Five years after the study, 16 people died from a heart attack in the group following a normal ‘post-heart-attack’ diet, whereas only 3 died in the group following the Meditteranean diet. 17 people had a non-fatal heart attack in the normal diet group, compared to 5 in the Mediterranean diet group. As the results were so profound, the study was actually stopped early!

And of course, a recipe: Sundried Tomato and Olive Focaccia

This is a slightly adapted version of the stuffed focaccia recipe in ‘The Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking’… It’s easy to make and oh-so-delicious.

Ingredients:

500g strong white bread flour

7g (1 heaped tsp) dried yeast

Cracked sea salt (more makes it delicious, but less is better if you suffer from high blood pressure)

2 tsp dried oregano

3 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for brushing

300ml lukewarm water

Sundried tomatoes and black olives (as much as you like!)

Method:

  1. Place the flour, yeast, oregano and salt into a large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.
  2. Add the olive oil and water to the dry ingredients and combine with a wooden spoon until you begin to form a very soft dough. If there are dry crumbs in the bottom of the bowl, the dough feels stiff and dry or it is difficult to bring together, add more lukewarm water 1 tbsp at a time. If the dough feels wet or sticky and clings to the sides of the bowl, work in a little more flour.
  3. At this stage, you need to get your hands dirty! Take the dough out of the bowl, and on a lightly floured surface kneed thoroughly for 10 minutes until the dough is slightly firmer and very elastic. It might help to put a little olive oil on your hands to stop the dough sticking.
  4. Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to prove for an hour at room temperature, until the dough has roughly doubled in size. Equally, at this stage you can leave the dough to prove overnight (a little tip from Jamie Oliver!)
  5. Divide the dough into two. With the first half, gently place it into the middle of a lightly oiled baking tray and press out to the edges. Don’t worry if the dough keeps springing back!
  6. Scatter the stretched dough with sundried tomatoes and olives, then take the second half of the dough and sandwich the tomatoes and olives in, pressing down on the sides of the dough to seal the top and bottom halves together. Brush the top of the dough with olive oil and crack some salt over it.IMG_1289
  7. Slip the tin into a large plastic bag, slightly inflate it so the dough does not stick to the plastic as it rises, and leave it to prove for approximately 45 minutes until doubled in size.
  8. Towards the end of the rising time, heat your oven to 220C/ 425F/ gas mark 7. Bake the focaccia for 20-25 minutes, before removing from the tin and leaving to cool. Don’t cool your bread in the tin – the steam condenses and after all this effort it would be such a shame to have soggy bread!
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