The area of the Mediterranean was the birthplace of culture and society on all levels. It is not by chance that in this corner of the world, possible the richest language humanity has ever known was born. At the same time the temperate climate was a catalyst, allowing nature to offer us the most exceptional variety of foods. The types of foods that make up the famous Mediterranean Diet!!
When did everyone start talking about the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet has been around for thousands of years. It has only been in recent years that closer studies have been made. Ancel Keys, the American Physiologist, was the first to come up with the idea to study it, in 1960. He wanted to understand why apparently healthy, middle aged Americans suffered from coronary disease (meaning heart problems). So he began to study 7 areas around the world (a couple being Southern Italy and Crete in Greece). This study was known to the world as “The Seven Countries Study and the results were sensational!!!
What did Ancel Keys discover?
The American Physiologist discovered that the populations in the Mediterranean showed much lower levels of cardiovascular episodes. From the data he collected, he understood that what made the biggest difference was the way these particular people ate throughout the day. This is how the legendary Mediterranean Diet was born and believe me, over the last 50 years more and more findings about the benefits of this type of diet have come into the light.
The Mediterranean Diet Ingredients:
OLIVE OIL: Extra virgin olive oil is the Mediterranean Diet’s trademark ingredient! This true gift from nature, that has been freely offered to man for thousands of years now. It is the dominant fat of this diet and it is produced in a variety of tastes and qualities. Olive oil contributes to the protection of your cardiovascular system, always of course, making sure that it is consumed in reasonable amounts.
FRUITS AND VEGETABLES: The variety of fruits and vegetables is also very important characteristic of the Mediterranean diet. Each season offers a remarkable gamma of foods that provide us with vitamins, minerals and trace elements. They also offer us the necessary fibers that help our keep our intestines working properly and control our metabolism. And of course, they provide us with many substances that are called phytochemicals that have an antioxidant effect, and shield our health. Finally, you should not forget that they are so abundant and inexpensive that you can easily consume their rich calories. Rich calories are the kind of calories that contain vast amounts of nutrients.
NUTS AND SEEDS: The people living in the Mediterranean were always able to find seeds (wheat, yeast etc.) and nuts (walnuts, almonds etc.) that contain amazing combinations of nutritional ingredients, (good fats, vitamins, minerals, energy and fiber) in small amounts.
ALCOHOL: As much as everyone may respect the policy against alcohol consumption worldwide, (especially in the United States and Northern Europe) you should not ignore the fact that wine, especially but also other spirits such as tsipouro, raki or tsikoudia (Greek spirits) are characteristic of the Mediterranean diet. It also seems that some substances in red wine (resveratrol), can play an important role in vascular function. Of course this does not mean that alcohol should be consumed in excess because it has been proven that they can cause very serious problems.
HERBS AND SPICES: The Mediterranean soil is very fertile and continuously provides us with plants that are beneficial to our health. Innumerable ingredients… oregano, rosemary, fennel, nettle, coriander, dill, parsley… and the list goes on! Aromatic plants that have grown for thousands of years against all odds, fighting against progress and innovation, offering us valuable antioxidant substances for our bodies and above all, their unique, characteristic Mediterranean taste.
BEANS AND SEAFOOD: Beans, fish and seafood in general is the pillar of the Mediterranean diet and the main source of proteins since red meat was very rarely consumed for special occasions (holidays, celebrations, weddings etc,). In this way, the Mediterranean population received sufficient amounts of protein and iron (as well as other substances like fatty acids from fish for instance) without needing to consume red meat. This was just as well since the Mediterranean pastures were never so fertile to withstand such large numbers of cattle or other large animals.
· The Mediterranean diet model was not created by scientists…. It is a way of life and in order for it to work it needs seasonality, social interaction between people while eating and daily physical activity.
· Globalization of trade is continuously developing in the way we all consume foods. More and more new foods are bombarding the Mediterranean markets that come from far off places. This may make one wonder whether or not we are able to eat an authentic Mediterranean diet…
· Ever since 2010, the Mediterranean diet was declared as Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, which essentially recognized the presence of this way of life.
Here are some of my favorite Mediterranean recipes!
This article was written in collaboration with Kitchen Lab’s Dietician. Nutritionist Christos Papavagelli.