Hardly a week goes by without an article in the press which extols the virtues of the Mediterranean Diet. Whether it’s Crete, Sicily, Pioppi or the so-called “Blue Zones” of Sardinia and Icaria. These are amongst the longest lived populations in the world, at least traditionally, with the percentage of centenarians well above average and the incidence of chronic lifestyle-related illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and coronary heart disease very low.
But what IS the Mediterranean diet? If it’s so good for us surely we should all want to eat like this especially as this way of eating is certainly not seen as an exercise in self-denial and restraint, quite the opposite in fact.
When we talk about diet, it’s also helpful to draw the distinction between “going on a diet” i.e. a restrictive way of eating that lasts for a set period of time and “diet” which are the foods that you eat day in and day out as part of your lifestyle – it’s the latter that we need to think about when discussing the Mediterranean diet. None of the regions I listed earlier feature exactly the same foods but the following pyramid captures the elements common to how people eat in this region:
This is a diet that is low in processed foods and added sugars. However, it is not particularly low in fat (olive oil is used liberally and nuts a key component of the diet) and it does not follow any of the faddier rules that you hear so much about e.g. Low Carb, Vegan, Paleo, gluten free etc. Wine is also drunk regularly but in moderation. Fruit and particularly vegetables are eaten in abundance – providing vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients – and this is a diet high in fibre all of which contribute to the health-giving benefits of this diet. It’s perfectly possible to incorporate most elements from this way of eating while sticking to locally sourced ingredients – my advice is to use the philosophy as a template but experiment with it.
The other key element is what we might call “primary foods” which are distinct from the food you put in your mouth. These are other elements in life which are seen to be hugely important to longevity: physical activity, eating slowly and with others, feeling of community, sense of purpose in life and a slower pace of existence. All of these augment what is already a very healthy way to eat.
With this in mind I put together a Mediterranean inspired salad last week as a light lunch which I enjoyed with my friends Simon and Michelle who have also provided the awesome photos below. Note that whilst this is certainly not an “authentic” recipe I have included key elements of the Mediterranean way of eating: plenty of richly coloured salads and vegetables, herbs, nuts, a small amount of cheese and a balsamic dressing. It was both delicious and, if you have had a hearty breakfast, quite filling.
Recipe – Serves 2-3 as a Light Lunch
- 1 head green chicory
- 16 cherry tomatoes
- 1 bunch watercress
- 2 tbsp pine nuts (toasted should you wish)
- 2 tbsp walnuts
- 8 basil leaves, torn
- 120g Italian cheese of your choice (I used Gorgonzola here)
- 1 tbsp rapeseed oil (or olive oil – I chose local)
- 1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar
- Salt & pepper
- Wash the vegetables; separate the watercress and cuts the heads of chicory into 2-3 large chunks.
- Slice the tomatoes into halves or quarters depending on size.
- Tear the basil leaves into 2-3 pieces each
- Cut the cheese into bite-sized chunks.
- Mix the rapeseed oil and balsamic dressing in a jar, season to taste.
- Assemble the salad leaves and vegetables on a serving platter. Sprinkle the cheese, walnuts, pine nuts on top and then drizzle the dressing all over.
- Eat slowly, reflectively and in good company.
Author: Tom Arundel
It’s rare for anyone to get an hour to explore their wellness goals with a trained professional. As a trained Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, I create a supportive environment that enables you to articulate and achieve your goals.