What is the Mediterranean Diet?
More and more people are talking about the Mediterranean diet but what is it exactly and is it worth trying?The people who live in Greece and Crete in the Mediterranean live, on average, longer lives. Also, they have less incidence of heart disease and less cancer and it is thought that this is connected with their diet.
In short, the diet uses lots of vegetables and fruit along, of course, with tomatoes, maybe quite a lot more than many people at present eat. In terms of fruit and vegetables it certainly contains more than the five portions a day recommended in the United Kingdom. In fact, many people in that area eat upwards of ten portions of fruit and vegetables a day, so there is some catching up to be done. In this, however, they are mirroring the recommendations of most nutritionists that we increase our intake well above the five portion guideline.
Very little red meat is eaten, much less than in most other countries, with the emphasis more on fish, and locally caught fish at that. It is well known that oily fish, like sardines, are an important source of the vital omega-3 oils which help reduce heart attack risks and boost the immune system.
Perhaps not quite so much cheese is eaten and much use is made of locally produced cheese made from goat's milk or the lovely, soft, fresh feta-like cheeses. Snacks, too, are a little different, and seem to consist of fresh or dried fruits like figs, apricots or maybe a handful of nuts and seeds. This, again, seems to be very much in step with modern nutritional thinking. From their point of view, of course, the people in that area are simply eating what their forefathers have eaten for generations before them.
Add to this the use of olive oil in cooking and the non-use of modern margarine containing 'hydrogenated oils (trans-fats), and you begin to see why the diet has so many people excited.
Of course, nothing is, or can ever be, that simple. It may not be just sufficient to copy the diet, perhaps we have to copy the lifestyle to experience the effect.
The people of that area are a very relaxed people who have a generous, outgoing nature and are very community based. Meals are generally taken together as an extended family, or with friends, sitting around a table in the evening and freely talking over the day's events while they leisurely eat. Contrast that with your household!The area is sunny and pleasantly warm and physical work plays a large part in most lives while cooking is a skill handed down from mother to daughter and lovingly practiced in the kitchen for far longer, I suspect, that many Western cooks would tolerate.
Also, most meals are cooked from prepared, fresh food and flavored as they cook or at the point of serving, and so a not inconsiderable cooking and food preparation skill is required along with a good and varied knowledge of how to use a wide variety of ingredients.
However, if you enjoy cooking then Mediterranean food may well be for you since there is a great deal of satisfaction in cooking simple, well flavored food from fresh, basic ingredients and then sitting down to eat it with your family.
From a nutritional point of view, the diet is a good one, especially if you can combine it with some quality exercise and if you can eat as a family and do so at a leisurely, unhurried pace. This last point would produce a much more relaxed way of eating and enhance social pleasure which are all things that tend to make us feel happier and more content. And this is something, we are told, that's helps make our lives more enjoyable and, ultimately, will help us live longer and be less disease-prone. It's an interesting thought that perhaps if we can copy the way of life and add to this the ingredients then we might have a recipe for a longer, more satisfying life ourselves.
The Mediterranean diet is a good diet to follow and I recommend it to you but I also urge you to take on board the other Mediterranean traits, too, the better to enrich and flavor your own life and the lives of those you love.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mike Taperell is a nutritionist, researcher and prolific author who writes with great understanding and clearness about health and holistic matters. He is Chief Writer and a founder of www.healthandholistic.com a site containing a wealth of articles, information and advice on anti-aging, fitness, food and eating, reflexology, stress avoidance and weight loss.