An Italian dietitian who grew up on the Mediterranean Diet shared three lunches with Insider.
Marika Mancino believes the diet is the most balanced and delicious eating plan.
Try upping your use of herbs and spices to reduce your salt intake, she said.
An Italian dietitian who grew up eating the Mediterranean diet shared three easy and nutritious lunch ideas with Insider.
The Mediterranean diet — which is based on how people in countries that border the sea that lends it its name, including Italy, traditionally ate — has long been considered the "gold standard" of healthy eating. That's partly because of its links to health benefits such as improved brain health and longevity, and a lower risk of heart attack or stroke.
It focuses on vegetables, fruit, whole grains, olive oil, fish, and legumes, and limits, but crucially doesn't entirely cut out, red meat, highly processed and fried foods, refined grains, sugar, and saturated fat.
"There is no food that is not good for you," UK-registered dietitian Marika Mancino said, but it's important to incorporate all the elements you need to make dishes "complete." These include sources of protein, fat, fiber, and carbohydrates, she said.
Mancino moved from Rome to Cambridge, UK, in 2011 and bases her clinical practice on her native diet because she believes it is the most balanced and delicious eating plan.
She also stressed the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices alongside diet, a sentiment echoed by a recent study that linked having a Mediterranean lifestyle — which involves eating with loved ones, taking the time to enjoy food, resting, and sleeping enough, and exercising regularly — to a reduced risk also reduced the risk of dying of any cause.
Avocado and boiled eggs baguette
A go-to lunch for Mancino is a baguette filled with a creamy mixture she makes with avocado and boiled eggs.
She spreads the mixture onto the bread, then tops it with some tomatoes and bell pepper slices, to make it a complete meal, she said.
Mozzarella and olive pasta salad
Sometimes Mancino will make herself a pasta salad for lunch.
"Pasta is a really good source of carbohydrates because it's a starchy carb. This means that you will keep your energy for longer," she said.
You can also buy different types of pasta including those made from pulses such as chickpeas or red lentils, Mancino said, which are great sources of protein.
"The typical pasta salad we make in Italy is with mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and olives," she said. Olives are a great source of healthy fats and a staple of the Mediterranean diet.
Mancino occasionally puts some tinned tuna in her salad for a bit of extra protein.
Mancino loves to make vegetable soups for lunch, especially in the fall or winter.
"You can really use your imagination with soups, you can add some pulses, some vegetables and then you can have some potatoes or even noodles with it," she said. "We pretty much eat everything in the Mediterranean, we eat a lot of different combinations."
On occasion, she uses store-bought stock to cook her soup, but she said it's important to check nutritional labels because some products have a lot of added salt. She recommended using miso paste instead of these stocks because it is more natural.
Another way to reduce your salt intake is by emphasizing herbs and spices, Mancino said. She always puts basil in her minestrone soup, as well as coriander, cumin, and turmeric.
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