While the Mediterranean Diet includes the eating habits of Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Israel, Greece and other countries touching the Mediterranean Sea, the cuisines are all very different. Some of the foods are the same, and there are two aspects that are very important. They eat in moderation and with family or friends.
After World War II the world changed dramatically in terms of food. Modern processing took over in many of the western countries. The people who have kept to the old ways have enjoyed the healthiest lives for the longest amount of time. While fast food joints have popped up in these countries, some of the outlying islands have maintained a more traditional lifestyle. As a result, we are now studying them for their secrets to longevity.
On the Greek islands of Crete and Icaria, it is not uncommon for people to live and maintain an active lifestyle into their 90s and many into their 100s. Studies show there are other spots around the globe, not on the Mediterranean, that also have a similar longevity. They conclude that this lifestyle is portable, not localized. Therefore, you too can practice this healthier lifestyle of the Mediterranean Diet.
Why Should I Follow a Mediterranean Diet?
Most of these studies, as usually is the case, were conducted on men. But I believe the Mediterranean Diet can benefit women just as much. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the two leading causes of death in the U.S. for all women, no matter their age or race, are heart disease and cancer. We hear a lot about cancer. There are many varieties of cancer. But heart disease beats them all. It’s the silent killer.
Not only do I encourage you to follow a Mediterranean Diet to be healthier, lose weight, and live longer, I also want you to stay healthier longer. As demonstrated by the people of Crete and Icaria, we can live well into our years and stay active physically and mentally.
What Exactly Is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean Diet usually gets generalized to eat more olive oil, fish and red wine. While these are healthy for your diet, I’ve found many other factors that make up the Mediterranean Diet. On the Greek islands of Crete and Icaria, the people eat many foods they grow themselves. Wildly grown greens and home-grown vegetables make up a large part of the diet. The people make their own bread, olive oil and wine. Some raise their own livestock. The meat and poultry they eat also lives on this diet of wildly grown vegetables, along with figs, insects and worms. They don’t feed their animals grains. In the U.S. most of the meat and poultry we eat is fed corn. It’s cheap. Even if you don’t eat corn, almost everything you eat in the U.S. eats corn.
Chef and food writer, Yotam Ottolenghi, visited Crete to meet the people and learn their version of the Mediterranean Diet, and how it differed from his native Israel. As he traveled around the island, there were some common themes. The people kept telling him the secrets to the island’s longevity are olive oil, vegetables, and wine shared with family and friends. He concluded that the people of Crete have a reverential attitude toward food, and that food was really an excuse for everybody to get together. If you watch the video, you will learn several delicious dishes.
There has been decades of research conducted on the Mediterranean Diet since 1960, much of it on the island of Crete. Studies have shown one of the main factors in reducing heart disease is a diet high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids. They can be found in fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna and sardines. Other foods include walnuts, flaxseeds, figs, snails, fresh basil, dried oregano, grape leaves and more. Purslane, a succulent which grows wild on Crete, is one of the best sources. The livestock on Crete also eats purslane and it is passed into the meat, poultry, eggs and cheese.
Here are some ways to follow a Mediterranean Lifestyle at home:
- Eat plenty of vegetables, organic or wildly grown if possible
- Eat poultry in moderation, preferably organic, grass-fed
- Eat red meat rarely, preferably organic, grass-fed
- Make your meals social. Take your time and enjoy eating with your family and friends.
- Eat handmade bread. If you don’t want to make it yourself, buy locally made bread from a baker or farmer’s market, not processed bread from the supermarket.
- Eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as the fatty fishes, figs, walnuts, wildly grown leafy greens and vegetables, flaxseed, basil, oregano.
- Find time for an afternoon nap.
- Take a walk and dig into the Earth to plant some vegetables.
- If you can find purslane, plant a pot of it in your kitchen.
- Grow some basil and oregano at home.
- And yes, use plenty of extra virgin olive oil, eat fish, and drink red wine.
Will I Stay Younger Longer?
I’ve made my own conclusions about longevity after reviewing many sources of study. The people of Crete not only follow a traditional Mediterranean diet, they grow their own vegetables. They are not buying GMO-laden, frozen or canned vegetables. They are not eating sliced white bread from the supermarket. They are hand-making their bread. Their recipes certainly do not include high-fructose corn syrup or preservatives. When they eat meat, they are not driving through a fast food chain. They are eating meat from animals and poultry who were never fed grain, but ate a diet of plants, insects, worms and figs. When they eat beans, they are not getting fast food burritos. They cook with the wildest, freshest ingredients they can find.
It can be difficult and expensive to eat organic, locally grown food in the U.S. I encourage you to use the highest quality ingredients you can find and afford.
Only time will tell if the Mediterranean Diet works for you. I’m willing to try. Are you?
Tell me how you are going to incorporate the Mediterranean Diet into your lifestyle.
One more thing: Does anyone know where I can find purslane?
Traditional Cretan Diet and Longevity: Evidence from the Seven Countries Study
The Island of Long Life — The Guardian
Los Angeles Times: Study Links Greek Diet to Longevity
Cretan Mediterranean diet for prevention of coronary heart disease
Mediterranean Diet 101: A Meal Plan That Can Save Your Life
The Cretan Diet: Uncovering Its Heart Health Secrets Through the Ages
Donna I especially like the part about taking your time and eating with family and friends. When my children were young we always had breakfast and dinner together. Now that they have moved out, my husband tends to work late and I eat on the run. On the weekends though, we eat together and it really is so much nicer.
I especially like the part about the afternoon nap! I sure wish my schedule would allow me to take a nap. I try to eat a healthy diet and appreciate the added information I have gained by reading your blog. Thank you.
I really appreciate this article and the information you’ve provided. Growing up in an Italian family, we ate plenty of these types of foods, but as an adult, I find time constraints pulling me to whatever I can pop in the toaster or microwave and eat in front of my computer. I’ve felt a change as my diet has gotten progressively worse; I wish I knew how to add more hours into the day to get back to this type of eating.