Is this a new fad? Or is it, in fact, a pretty ancient eating plan?
And what is this ‘secret’ that makes the Mediterranean diet so successful?
Is the Mediterranean diet really ‘New’?
When I started gathering info on the Mediterranean diet, it seems it is based on the traditional foods that people used to eat in countries like Italy and Greece in the post-war 1950s and 1960s.
Which is just yesterday in the greater scheme of things, if you think about it?
Dr Ancel Keys and his colleagues from the University of Minnesota conducted a surprising study which found that poor people of small, rural towns in Italy were, against all laws of probability, in far better health than their rich New York counterparts, even including those from the same area who’d emigrated to the Big Apple.
They were also credited with being the first to discover the link between diet and cardiovascular health.
Or is it actually a bit older than time?
Erm, didn’t Hippocrates (460 – 375 BC) kinda hint at that a couple of centuries earlier? With his:
“Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.”
And oddly enough, Hippocrates just happened to be a Greek of Mediterranean persuasion; someone who held that all forms of illness had a natural cause.
Or perhaps, it’s just humans that are a little slow on the uptake.
Because, if you dig a little deeper into the history and culture of the Mediterranean and its peoples, there’s every indication that this eating style had its origins in the ancient civilisations of Egypt, Sumeria, Assyria, Babylon and Persia.
And that’s going a wee bit further back in time?
But whenever its birth, it does seem that more and more health practitioners are coming out in support of the ‘newfound’ Mediterranean diet.
So what is the fuss all about?
What are the benefits of the Mediterranean diet?
What IS the Mediterranean Diet?
Let’s start with the Mediterranean Diet Food Pyramid – credited to Harvard University.
As with any pyramid formation, it shows the foods and their food groups and the proportions in which they should be eaten.
But more than that, it also shows a balance in the foods and the importance of eating them in the right quantities – from abundant to moderate to meagre – as you progress higher up the pyramid.
1. Daily foods
These include grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes, olive oil as the go-to fat, low-fat cheeses and yoghurts.
White meat – chicken, rabbit and turkey – gets preference over red meat. Together with fish and eggs, you should eat white meat several times a week.
Beef and red meat are reserved for just a few times a month. (Think of the savings to your food bill!)
3. Fruit & vegetables
Within each food group, there’s also interchangeability. For example, when it comes to fruit and vegetables, seasonality is the key.
Those ‘in season’ are fresher, less force-fed and much better priced, too.
If you’re not sure, think of which produce we enjoyed in the various seasons before the days of hydroponics, monoculture, cold storage and artificial fertilisers.
4. Mixing it up
And then, of course, there’s variety. In nature, there is no ‘one size fits all’ or one single food source that provides your every nutrient, mineral and vitamin.
Even the designer protein shakes can’t perfect this.
It’s important to eat an assortment of foods in an array of colours and textures.
Not just because they’re good for you. But to add pleasure and zest to your palate and your health.
Food is one thing that should never bore you!
A varied diet goes a long way to give you all your body needs.
Include an interesting range of foods in your diet and you’ll cut the risk of any nutritional and metabolic imbalances.
5. Wine is fine – in moderation
And, you can have wine. A glass of full-bodied red a day is good for you. (And that’s a YES from me!)
It needs your buy-in
You need to have an adequate amount from each food group daily. Life is all about balance. Portion-sizing is important.
To be honest, I’ve never been one for measuring and weighing every item of food I put in my mouth.
I’d rather pull up a chair and watch paint dry.
I use a rough guide of red meat the size of my palm; fish or chicken the size of my flat hand; nuts and seeds, yoghurt and cheese by the fistful; grains and legumes by the handful, veggies and salads by the plateful.
It’s worked well for me so far.
(I’ll be doing another post about diet plans and daily portions soon).
It needs your action
The Mediterranean diet also presumes you don’t live a sedentary life – two brisk walks of 15 minutes each per day and you’ve got this.
Make good basic food choices: choose wholewheat over white, fresh over fast (that includes prepared, ready-to-eat), dark chocolate instead of white. Nuts instead of crisps.
Little changes make massive differences in the long run.
You also don’t need to suffer.
I use Fridays as my cheat day. I love chips and ice-cream.
I’m mostly good 85% of the time; this 15% is guilt-free.
The secret to the Mediterranean diet
Very few things in life are stand-alone. X is influenced by, dependent upon or completely altered by Y.
And the secret ingredient of the Mediterranean diet is people.
The Mediterraneans are a social, gregarious bunch.
Mealtimes are an occasion, a celebration, a time to come together, catch up, discuss, plan, engage.
Not for them the modern habit of sitting in front of the computer or TV with a plate on your lap – barely tasting or noticing what you’re shovelling into your mouth?
We are whole beings. Our minds, bodies and souls all demandtheir share and fill of good nourishment.
Make mealtimes matter.
Taste and savour every mouthful.
You’ll soon notice the difference.