What is the Mediterranean Diet?
The Mediterranean diet isn’t a trend, fad, or a firm set of food rules. It’s a real food approach to healthy eating that embraces variety, flavour and nutrient-rich foods. The diet also recommends plenty of daily exercises and to surround yourself with family and friends on a regular base.
It’s no secret that people who eat a Mediterranean diet tend to have a longer life expectancy, healthier hearts, and a lower rate of many common diseases.
The Mediterranean diet is often referred to as the world's healthiest diet and is backed by many scientific evidence.
Many of the studies suggesting that the positive outcomes of this lifestyle are lower levels of LDL cholesterol, better blood glucose control, better weight management, reduced risk of depression, lower risk of many common cancers, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer's disease. Many diets claim that they offer these results, but they don’t stand up to the weight of the scientific proof that the Mediterranean diet does.
What countries are a part of the Mediterranean?
Greece, France, Italy, and Spain get all the glory, but...
Do you think of Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, and Morocco cuisine when you hear that the healthiest way to eat is the Mediterranean diet?
I sure do!
These Middle Eastern and North African countries sit squarely on the Mediterranean Sea, and their people have long known that our food has everything we need to eat well and be healthy. But also…it’s more than just the nutrition of these cuisines that make it so good for us. The way they eat means just as much as what they eat. That is: with passion and pleasure, shared with the people they love.
These countries are often referred to as the Eastern Mediterranean, and that's my favourite part of the Mediterranean.
Food and family are synonymous with all the people of the Mediterranean!
Here’s what makes the Eastern Mediterranean diet, so good and good for us:
Olive oil and healthy fats are the heart and soul of Mediterranean cuisine. Olive oil is such a satisfying, delicious and healthy fat. Extra virgin olive oil is used for every day, and butter is reserved for special-occasion foods.
Olive oil begins as a sauté, and then transforms cooked vegetables into culinary delights, and tops off many, many dishes like labneh, hummus, baba ganoush, kibbeh, and all salads.
Other loved sources of healthy fats are from eating plenty of nuts like pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, almonds and seeds sesame.
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. These are the foundation.
The Mediterranean people know how to stuff a vegetable like none other! They love their stuffed grape leaves, cabbage, and summer squash. And the salads! Fattoush and tabbouleh are the most well-known, and with good reason, but if you haven’t tried Malouf salad, an incredibly flavourful, crunchy cabbage slaw, you are missing out, my friend!
Fruit reigns in the Mediterranean diet, well-chosen fruit that is served and enjoyed as is, nothing special, just a bowl of fruit and a knife will do in most case scenarios. No, Mediterranean person day is complete without beautiful fresh fruit either to start the day or to finish it.
My husband was shocked when arriving in Canada and find out that it isn’t a part of the culture to love fruit, and some people don’t even like fruit. He likes to reminisce about how good the fruit is in his country, and It was enormous and sweet and perfect that fruit was. He still, to this day, complains about the figs in Canada. I didn’t know if it was nostalgia or reality that made that fruit so perfect, but that was until I travelled to the coast of the Mediterranean for myself, and I now share this strange nostalgia for their produce.
Citrus is famous among fruits, lemon especially for bringing the tanginess everyone loves, used in dressing salads, marinating meats and a little squeeze at the end of cooking to give food its final touch.
Grains Galore! We’re talking fibre, people, and lots of it! From bulgur, freekeh, couscous, pasta, lentils and rice. Even the stuffed vegetables get a bit of rice, the Mediterranean way with grains is excellent!
Spices and fresh herbs by the bunches. When you cook with spices and fresh herbs so heavily as the Mediterraneans do, the flavour is at a premium, so there is far less need for excessive amounts of salt and fat in a dish to get it to taste great. Mint, parsley, cilantro—the golden trio, and we’re going to use a lot of it. And what goes for these herbs goes for spices too!— the world of flavour is unlocked with a dusting of za’atar, sumac, dried mint, cinnamon, and many more spices.
Lean meat and fish. The love for grilled shish kebab and lamb is true, but these are eaten way less. And generally, the meat eaten is lean and cheaper cuts that require slow cooking.
The Mediterraneans love their fish, too, and I wish I cooked fish more often. I often forget how much I love it, but mostly I don’t cook it as often as I would like to is because of the cost and availability of fresh fish in Canada.
Fresh bread. Okay, I know what many of you are thinking. But fresh, soft, homemade or bakery-made pieces of bread can be and is a healthy part of how the Mediterraneans eat. The ritual of getting up and walking to the bakery each day sometimes multiple times a day is still daily life in the Mediterranean. Personally, I hope this tradition never dies. Their bread is a far cry from the bread found at supermarkets in North America; there are only a few ingredients in Mediterranean bread.
It’s all about proportions, frequency, and the whole diet overall that allows for bread, pasta, and our pizza to play the beloved role they do without taking them down.
The secret to eating the Mediterranean way is just to eat real food! Tell me more about what you love about eating Mediterranean cuisine!