The Mediterranean diet can be thought as a nutritional way of life that includes an array of vegetables, fish, extra virgin olive oil, legumes, nuts, whole grains and fruit, coupled with a lifestyle that many experts suggest is conducive to living healthy. Although red meat, poultry, cheese and yogurt are part of the diet, they are eaten mostly in moderation. Let's not forget about the red wine, an important part of the dinner table, however, again in moderation. Remember the ancient Greek saying "pan metron ariston" in other words "everything in moderation". Growing up Greek in America and having had the great opportunity to also live in Greece and discover my roots, I can attest that eating pastries, refined sugars and red meats are usually enjoyed on occasion or during celebrations and holidays. The Mediterranean dishes usually include:
Vegetables: In almost every meal you will find vegetables dressed with extra virgin olive oil, collard greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chicory, peas, arugula, spinach, carrots, beets, tomatoes, peppers, fennel, leeks, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, onions, radishes and the list goes on and on...
Herbs and Spices: A very important part of every dish for aroma, and taste: oregano, basil, dill, thyme, salt, pepper, garlic, bay leaves, mint, rosemary, sage, etc.
Olives and Olive Oil: A variety of olives are a staple on Mediterranean tables and extra virgin olive oil is the number one product found in every Mediterranean kitchen as an essential product and part of the diet.
Fish: A great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, fish and shellfish, grilled or baked are an important part of the seaside cities & towns cuisine: Lavraki, Branzino, Barbounia, Cod, Sea Bass, Sardines, Flounder, Soul, Salmon, Tuna, squid, octopus, mussels, clams, shrimp, and more!
Legumes: Good source of fiber, iron and protein, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, beans and lentils are a big part of Mediterranean dishes.
Whole Grains: Another great source of Fiber, iron, Vitamin B, protein and more; Bulgar, Amaranth, Spelt, Barley, Rice, fresh baked bread, pita bread, barley, rusks, and other whole grains found in pasta dishes.
Eggs: A great source of protein and used often for baking and breakfast.
Poultry and Meat: High in protein, cut fat, choose lean, grilled, skewered, baked, or cooked in a casserole over slow fire for many hours, as discussed meat and poultry are eaten in moderation, the Mediterranean's eat: lamb, goat, beef, chicken, duck, quail and pork.
Cheeses and Yogurt: High in Calcium, Vitamin D and potassium; Considered a classic on the table, cheese and yogurt as a dip will accompany many dishes. Yogurt is also a favorite for breakfast or dessert topped with honey, fresh or candied fruits.
Nuts and Dried Fruit: Nuts are high in protein and found in many dishes also eaten as a snack and often coupled with dried fruit. Nuts should be eaten in moderation to avoid spikes in cholesterol levels.
Fruit: High in vitamins and anti-oxidants, after dinner there is always a plate of fruit on the table; grapes, watermelon, peaches, apples, pears, oranges, melons, strawberries, etc.
There must be a reason that longevity is part of the natives of the Mediterranean, people on the island of Ithaca live over 100! We still need to factor in some more lifestyle traits that account for this "healthier population", such as a slower pace of life resulting in less stress, family as a strong support group, local grown products, more home cooked meals, and most importantly less processed food, less saturated fats and less processed sugars. The reason that the Mediterranean diet is associated with higher HDL and lower LDL and has been found to have less cardiovascular diseases in the Mediterranean, is partly due to the moderation and use of mono-saturated and poly-saturated fats instead of saturated fats and higher Omega 3 intake. Of course I am also sure that a less stressful lifestyle also helps! However, the overall success is the combination of nutritional, lifestyle habits and different cooking methods that make the difference.
Taking strolls and walks is also popular with the people of the Mediterranean. What is important to take into account when wanting to maintain our body weight or engage in a weight loss plan is that results will additionally depend on calorie deficit and increased energy expenditure.
My friends confess that when traveling to parts of the Mediterranean on vacation, although they eat in excess, they always return feeling great and strangely enough, even losing weight! We need to add that you will experience different dishes when traveling around the region that will depend on the seaside or mountain locations. You will most likely encounter more fish by the sea and more grains and poultry in the mountains, however overall your taste buds will have an unforgettable culinary experience.
A great way to learn and adopt this way of life is visiting!
When visiting be sure to eat at traditional restaurants and taverns to really experience the local's fine cuisine. In closing there are many fine cuisines around the world that are healthy and nutritious, most of all be sure to listen to your body and how you feel after each meal. Walking away feeling full but light is always the best way to go! Bloating and sluggishness might mean something doesn't agree with you. When it comes to nutrition and what we are putting into our bodies, I would like to suggest taking an allergy test so you are more aware with what is a healthier choice for you. Be sure to keep it as natural as possible, cooking methods are important to a healthier meal and don't forget all in moderation.