I’m on my holidays in Spain at the moment and have been slipping into the local way of life. I’ve been contemplating their lifestyle and whilst it isn’t always the perfect Mediterranean diet there are some really useful habits they have that help with weight loss.
1. Menu del dia
Many local restaurants have cheap lunchtime menus of the day with 3 courses. I know a lot of southern Mediterranean countries also do this. They serve a soup or salad starter (sometimes pasta), a main course of meat or fish with potatoes or just vegetables, and then a dessert which, at this time of year, is usually fruit like melon. I love this concept. By having courses you automatically take longer over your lunch, which can improve digestion and give you time to realise you are full. Also having a starter of salad or soup can help fill you up with healthy food so that you then eat less at your main course. You'll notice that those main courses are actually quite small. It's more work but if you can prepare a soup or salad to have before your main meal try it out. Or trial it next time you go out for a meal, have an appetiser and see if you eat less main meal, just choose wisely.
Many Spaniards have their main meal at lunchtime and then have a lighter snack in the evening. This is a good weight loss strategy too, having a bigger meal when you are more active during the day and less in the evening when the body’s natural rhythm is winding down. I see this often in clients’ food diaries, particularly in older people.
Pulses are one healthy element of the typical Mediterranean diet. The Spaniard's favourites are chickpeas, white beans, lentils and broad beans. You find them in soups, tapas, and stews. They are full of fibre which is a really helpful tool for weight loss. Fibre in pulses fills you up, keeps the digestive system moving, and they have many vitamins and minerals. Why not throw them into a soup or stew to bulk it out and you might find you can do without the bread.
It’s said that we basically eat dessert for breakfast. Breakfast cereals, fruit yogurts, jams, pastries and muffins are all sweet options to start the day. The Spanish breakfast I see most often in food diaries is a roll toasted drizzled with olive oil, usually with a coffee. Yes, bread is high on the glycaemic index despite being low in sugar, which means it quickly raises your blood sugar but can soon leave you feeling hungry and in need of a quick fix. But by combining it with olive oil stomach emptying is slowed and the effect on blood sugar is reduced. Plus olive oil, high in mono-unsaturated fat, is a healthy fat.
I love tapas. I’m gluten free so I pick my way around the bread accompaniment but these little portion sizes are perfect. Just one can be a healthy snack when you need something before lunch or dinner. Or several make a great meal without you feeling stuffed. Slices of cheese, little salads with potato, tuna and egg, roasted red peppers & onions, Spanish tortilla, anchovies – these are my favourites. But chorizo, Serrano ham, chicken or pork in tomato sauces are some meaty options. You just have to brave your way into a Spanish bar and point at the dishes. Why not recreate your own at home using saucer size plates.
What do you like that’s healthy about eating on holiday?