Bring home the Mediterranean Diet

 Buying produce in Positano on the Amalfi Coast

Produce in Positano on the Amalfi Coast

 

The end of International Mediterranean Diet Month is drawing near but it’s still a great time, if you haven’t done it already, to bring the Mediterranean diet home. But let me be clear: I’m not talking about certain foods that originate in the Mediterranean region, such as pasta or even extra virgin olive oil. I’m referring to the entire eating pattern.

Somehow we always seem to want to focus on a superfood and add it to the menu. But it’s time to rid ourselves of that way of thinking. Healthy eating is not just about one food. It’s about a pattern and in the case, of the Mediterranean diet, it’s also about a lifestyle – healthy eats, active living and sharing meals together.

If you’ve been following the research on this eating style, you’ve likely come across  the reams and reams of scientific investigations showing assorted health perks. It’s linked to a defence against almost all chronic diseases from heart disease and stroke and Alzheimer’s to a range of cancers and diabetes (even gestational diabetes).  But there’s more: it’s also key to maintaining a high quality of life.  Living well, not just longer, is a goal worth striving for. And the good news   is that adopting the eating style at any age offers benefit.

But make no mistake about it, it’s the traditional Med diet, not the one that can currently be found in many countries in the region.  This eating style was known as cucina povera (cuisine of the poor) but as people became more affluent, meat in some places has started taking centre stage, rather than being the garnish to a plate full of veggies, whole grains, legumes and plenty of flavourful herbs and spices.

As well, last year back when the World Health Organization warned about the risks of eating processed meats, I heard many talking about how eating lots of the cured meats of the region – Italian sausages and prosciutto – was fine as it was part of the Med diet. In fact, these products were used to stretch out how long meat would last and were not eaten in abundance.

But back to the superfood concept.   Yes, virgin olive oils contain about 200 different micro-components –  various forms of vitamin E, carotenoids or pigments as well as phenolic compounds – which are linked to protection against disease. The more aromatic and flavourful an oil, the higher the level of phenolics, substances that provide a range of benefits including blood cholesterol lowering.
However, it’s the effect on extra virgin olive oil in the cuisine which sends nutritional counts soaring.

For example, dark leafy greens can be boring and bitter-tasting.  Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou, MD,  Ph.D., of the University of Athens, who is known as a result of her extensive research as the mother of the Mediterranean diet, suggests that it’s    fruity olive oil  that makes the greens so delicious and consumed in large amounts. That’s what the Med diet is also about: the combinations of foods which create the pleasures of the palate and boost nutritional quality. The synergistic or additive effects are incredibly remarkable.  Research shows that the antioxidant power of garlic, tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and basil is significantly greater when these foods are consumed together than when each is eaten on its own.

Simply put, the Mediterranean diet is a about the wisdom of the ages.

To find out how Mediterranean your diet is, take this quiz at Oldways. Oldways is the Boston-based food think tank that brought the Med diet to the attention of both the scientific and culinary world.

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Categories: Food Trends, Whole Foods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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