Valencian Paella: Noble Representative of the Mediterranean Diet (Part 1)

December 28, 2011

in Nutrition

There is a wealth of information available on the healthiness of the Mediterranean nutrition and diet, specifically how this diet results in statistically low occurrences of chronic diseases and statistically higher life expectancy in the people who abide by it.

There is a general consensus among health professionals that the Mediterranean diet is healthier than the North European and North American diet. This is because it includes more grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and olive oil.

It’s not easy to understand what exactly ‘Mediterranean diet’ means since there are many countries and cultures that share this definition – usually all the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, from Greece to Spain and from Italy to Israel.

Some key features of the Mediterranean diet are:

  1. Moderate amounts of olive oil – consumed with fresh vegetables and on salads.
  2. Small portions of lean meat with no visible fat.
  3. High consumption of legumes, vegetables and fruits.
  4. High intake of antioxidants.
  5. High consumption of breads, pasta, rice, and potatoes.
  6. Regular exercise.

Let’s review, one by one, the main ingredients of the Valencian Paella, to see how this one simple dish conforms to the key features of one of the healthiest diets in the world: the Mediterranean diet.


1. Olive Oil:

The traditional Mediterranean diet delivers as much as 40% of total daily calories from fat.

The impact of fat on the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases is very much dependent on whether the fat is saturated or non-saturated.

Fat provided by olive oil is a mono-unsaturated fat, which does not result in the same cholesterol raising effect of saturated fat. Mono-unsaturated fat helps to lower harmful LDL cholesterol.

Olive oil contains antioxidants that prevent clogging arteries and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including fighting carcinogens that result in cancer.

Remember: start cooking authentic Valencian paella by pouring olive oil.


2. Lean meat:

The traditional meats included in a Paella recipe are the lowest fat-content meats that humans consume in their diets: chicken and rabbit.

In the following table, we can see the fat content for different meats:


Meat Type


(per 100 gram)

Bacon, average rashers


Pork belly rashers, grilled


Lamb breast, roasted


Duck, roasted


Goose, roasted


Pork chops, grilled


Beef, average lean


Chicken, average


Pheasant, roasted







Sometimes a traditional recipe may call for duck (which is more fatty), but this is usually only to increase the flavor, and the recommended amount is not significant enough to cause a consistently high increase in the typical fat content of paella.


3. Legumes and Vegetables:

Vegetables are low in fat but contain substantial amounts of vitamins and minerals. All the green/yellow/orange vegetables are rich sources of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, beta-carotene, vitamin B-complex, vitamin-C, vitamin A, and vitamin K.

Vegetables are also a source of antioxidants that, as we have discussed, help boost one’s immunity and protect us from free radicals and carcinogens that can result in chronic disease or cancer.

In addition, vegetables contain soluble as well as insoluble dietary fiber known as non-starch polysaccharides (N.S.P.) like cellulose, gums, mucilage and pectin that absorb excess water in the colon and retain considerable amounts of moisture in the fecal matter thereby helping its easy passage out of the body. This is helpful for conditions like hemorrhoids, chronic constipation and rectal fissures.

Apart from rice, authentic Valencian paella’s recipe also includes several vegetables such as tomatoes, flat green beans, white lima beans and white beans.

The vegetables used in paella are amongst some of the healthiest vegetables available.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

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