After the recent news report about the longitudinal study showing the positive effects of a Mediterranean Diet, you may be thinking about “going Mediterranean”. While the term diet is used to describe the specific foods to include, you don’t want to think about “going on” this or any “diet” as a temporary solution.
Eating for improved health is a lifetime goal; it’s something that you need to work on every day, every week, month after month. In this case, the term “lifestyle” is more appropriate really than “diet”. My own experience with the Mediterranean lifestyle and way of eating comes from my Italian ancestors. I was brought up with olive oil always in the pantry cupboard and used almost daily in cooking the evening meal. Beans and lentils were also used regularly through the year, but even more so during the Lenten season before Easter when meatless meals were even more frequent. A salad accompanied every supper, and was always eaten after the meal, not as a first course as people in America are accustomed to doing. A wide variety of vegetables were prepared each week, and a fresh garden was grown every summer. Vegetables such as fresh artichokes, fennel, cooked greens, and roasted red peppers were uncommon in most households, but we ate them on most holidays or Sundays. We often enjoyed relaxed alfresco dining, and my family still enjoys eating outdoors in the summertime.
I recently had a chance to chat with my friend and colleague, Meri Raffetto, co-author of The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook For Dummies®. While many people may think “red wine and pasta” when they hear “Mediterranean Diet”, Meri clears up the confusion here:
Q: So is this a new diet?
A: The “diet” originated in the 1950’s and 1960’s with the Seven Countries Study and the diet patterns studied were the traditional diets of this time (not current- much more westernized now). The Mediterranean region focus is primarily Southern Italy and Crete, which were more rural. Not all of the Mediterranean coast was used in the research. Dr. Walter Willet presented or defined the Mediterranean Diet in the 1990’s.
Q: What would you say is the primary focal point of the diet?
A: The dietary focus is plenty of seafood, 5 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day (mix of raw, cooked, canned), legumes and lentils. Meat was expensive so they ate beef infrequently and use only small portions like a side dish. Used what they had…seasonal produce, seafood and olives.
Q: Coming from an Italian family, we ate pasta every Sunday for supper, but we also had something like a roast chicken and a salad. Is pasta used in the Mediterranean Diet?
A: Pasta is a main staple but definitely NOT cooked like it is here in the U.S. They ate it as a side dish…half to one cup portion and cooked the noodles al dente (which makes them lower glycemic – just an interesting note!)
Q: Over the past twenty years we’ve shifted our focus from “low fat” to “the right fat”. What kind of fat is included in this lifestyle and how much is enough, as opposed to “too much”?
A: Olive oil is primarily a monounsaturated fat and also provides omega 9 fatty acids. Both fats are linked to better heart health and lower inflammation levels. The diet provides about 35% calories from fat compared to the recommended 30% in the American diet so it’s not necessarily a very high fat diet. You don’t want to load up your cooking with a ton of oil. Keeping to a tablespoon of oil for cooking or dressings is a good place to be.