I’m sure by now, you’ve heard about the endless benefits of the Mediterranean diet. To name a few, the Mediterranean Diet has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
But, the one I am always most excited to let couples know about is the researched benefits of the Mediterranean diet on fertility and IVF outcomes.
One study found that women undergoing IVF who adhered to the Mediterranean diet had higher rates of pregnancy and live births.
Another study also found that men who followed a Mediterranean diet had greater sperm: concentration, motility, total count and morphology – i.e. better sperm health all round!
Hopefully, I’ve sold you by now!
But, since we can’t all live our best Mediterranean lives in Greece or Italy, I’ve constructed a list of 7 must-haves to make your pantry Mediterranean diet ready!
Plus, anything that makes us feel a little closer to this sliver of paradise, right?
(1) Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Of course, numero uno on the must-have list is none other than classic Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO).
Fun fact, EVOO is actually just olive juice, simply crushed olives, the tapenade made is strained away from the oil, so really it is a kind of fruit juice!
EVOO is not so silent achiever – this pungent, aromatic oil makes any humble dish the star of the table. Whether you’re drizzling it over a salad, using it to saute onion and garlic or marinating meat, you cannot go wrong.
But olive oil brings way more to the table than just its taste. EVOO is a mono-unsaturated fatty acid that is packed with antioxidants, Vitamin E and K and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties, protect against various diseases. We know that vitamin E is really important to support healthy implantation and optimal sperm health. Plus these healthy fats actually enhance our bodies abilities to absorb these critical nutrients too.
A good way to tell that your extra virgin olive oil is rich in antioxidants is when you try some just on its own it gives you a hot or prickly feeling in the back of your throat!
Aim for 2-3 tablespoons per day for optimal health benefits.
(2) Dried herbs
It’s thyme you know the secret ingredient – dried herbs!
Forget about salt, nothing can compare to the magical rosemary, chicken and potato combo. Or how about parsley, it virtually goes with every meal – pasta, salad, meat, you name it.
Just ¼ of a teaspoon of dried oregano tossed on top of meats, a Greek salad or a homemade pizza can give you the same amount of antioxidants as a half a cup of sweet potatoes!
Dried or fresh, it doesn’t matter, they all pack an antioxidant punch. So stop neglecting that spice drawer and plant some fresh herbs in your garden and reap the nutritional and flavourful benefits!
(3) Dried or tinned lentils, chickpeas, beans
When dinner almost looks like it is going to turn into takeaway – chickpeas and lentils come to save the day. Whether you turn them into a salad or minestrone soup – they will always be there, waiting in your pantry.
These humble legumes are often overlooked but are high in fibre, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins! So if its bean a while, stock up your pantry.
Why not try my Four Bean Salsa Salad Recipe!
What type of Mediterranean pantry would you have without pasta! Add some barley, freekeh, buckwheat, bulgar, rice and you’re set!
Choosing the wholemeal variety of pasta and brown rice helps to increase your fibre. Going for white rice instead of brown rice can result in losing around 75% of its nutrients including antioxidants, B vitamins and magnesium, so go for the wholegrain!
Mediterraneans use these grains in soups, salads and sides on the daily, not to mention the fresh bread!
(5) Dried fruit
Let’s talk dried fruits. Dried fruits are essentially fruit that has had most of its water removed, here’s a spotlight on a few nutritious dried fruits you can add to your pantry:
- Raisins (dried grapes): full of fibre, potassium and studies have shown raisins can lower blood pressure, improve blood sugar control, reduce inflammatory markers and cholesterol.
- Prunes (dried plums): rich in fibre, potassium, vitamin A and K and a natural laxative. One study found prunes more effective than psyllium husks at helping relieve constipation and promote regularity in the bathroom. Plus, some research has also suggested that prunes are great for healthy bones too! (Wallace, 2017)
- Dates: great source of fibre, potassium, iron and antioxidants! Research has found that eating dates regularly in the last weeks of your pregnancy may help to improve cervical dilation and reduce the need for induced labour. You can read more about foods to help prepare you for labour here.
Whilst these dried fruits provide amazing health benefits, moderation is still key and they should only be eaten in small amounts, as they are easy to overeat!
(6) Tinned anchovies and/or sardines
Talk about packing a punch! These small fish are great to have as a snack or add them to salad and past or atop avocado toast.
- Anchovies: oily fish that is a great source of B vitamins, potassium, selenium, calcium, protein and low in calories. Anchovies are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and have been shown to lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels in the blood, a win for heart health too! Throw them into your next tomato-based pasta sauce and even those who hate fish won’t notice!
- Sardines: Named after Sardinia, an island in Italy, these little fish are full of nutrients! Omega-3, B12, calcium, vitamin D, minerals (iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus) and protein are somehow all packed into these small fish! Omega-3s are a critical part of the Mediterranean diet and play a special role when it comes to fertility too, read more about that here.
Nuts are high in nutritious fats, a great source of fibre, protein and packed full of vitamins and minerals.
They’ve also been shown lower high blood pressure and cholesterol levels and are not associated with unwanted weight gain or obesity.
You would be nuts not to add them to your diet!
The recommendation is to have a small (30 g) handful of nuts a day – they’re a great snack or can be added to your bliss balls, salads, yoghurt, muesli or crush them up to crust a piece of fish or meat!
Read more about how to use nuts in your day at Nuts For Life.
This blog was co-written by Jessica Perrone, a final year Master of Nutrition and Dietetics student at The University of Sydney. You can find Jess on Instagram @nutritionby_jessperrone and on LinkedIn.