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Mediterranean Food for a Healthier Life

Updated on May 27, 2013

Now don't be wrinkling your nose and making that face. This isn't another lens about losing weight, although you will. The Mediterranean diet goes back to the variety of delicous but common foods available around the Mediterranean coast countries - France, Spain, Greece, Israel, Morocco and North Africa. It's about going back to old world basics of early agricultural values of family, food and friends.

Something's gone wrong in the United States. People in the U.S. have more diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease. Why? Don't we have it all? Plenty of good food variety, safe parks and freedom of movement to participate in sports or even walks. Yet diet programs, and mail order meals are multi-billion dollar industry. Some days (and nights), TV time is filled with nearly back-to-back advertisements promising to drop your weight, often without even excercising.

With a little planning, dinner doesn't have to mean stopping at McDonald's on the way home, or popping frozen food into the microwave for your family to eat while watching TV, texting, talking on the phone, or hurrying out the door.

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In general, mankind, since the improvement in cookery, eats twice as much as nature requires. ~Benjamin Franklin

So, What is the Mediterranean "Diet"?

It's Not About Deprivation, It's More of a Lifestyle

There is no substitute for fresh, homemade food which contains none of the preservatives or additives in fast or instant food which contain so many starch filled food additives and salt. Fresh, home-cooked food makes for good blood sugar levels for those with diabetes.

  • Most of the food consists of fresh, seasonal and organic vegetables and fruits.
  • Beans, legumes and nuts often replace red meat, or are used as staple ingredients or in side dishes several times a week.
  • A wide variety of herbs, spices and citrus juice blends (vastly cutting down on the overuse of iodized salt) are used to enhance flavors.
  • Fresh fish rich in Omega-3 can be eaten often. This reduces the odds of a sudden heart attack and prevents or reduces Alzheimer's disease.
  • Olive oil is preferred for cooking and adding taste. Cook with it, drizzle it on salads. Absolutely NO vegetable-based oils such as Canola and corn oil, or margarine and shortening which contain too much fatty Omega-6 and/or have been hydroginized. "Hydroginated" is a bad word!
  • Substitute red meat for fish or chicken. Lean red meat can be enjoyed occasionally. At first try to wean away from red meat to once a week, then every other week, to once a month, and finally, only for special occasions (tailgate parties, backyard barbeque, Father's Day, Fourth of July, restaurants).
  • A glass of red wine or grape juice - 5 oz. (preferably not condensed) is good once a day.

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The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid - Available as a Poster from Oldways

The Mediterranean culture is one of taking advantage of the balmy climate, encouraging being outdoors in the sunshine, walking, even if just hanging up clothes to dry in the sea breeze, soaking up essential Vitamin D.

I was surprised to see they advertise putting Vitamin D in cereals and other things, when only twenty minutes of sunshine a day gives you plenty of Vitamin D. Twenty minutes a day. Outside. Sunshine. And we aren't getting that? For this we have to buy supplements? Vitamin D can help with depression, so a walk outside in the sun is a double plus to give you energy and clear your head.

Daily physical activity such as walking. If not physically able, then to whatever capacity one is able. Also important are hobbies and interests in things you are passionate about. This is the main key, increased fresh air and some excercise.

In the evenings in Spain, crowds of people participate in "tapas"; leisurely walking (yes, on foot) along streets and plazas with friends, eating a couple of small plates of fish, vegetable or cheese-based recipes at one "tapas bar", then casually walking to another another to sample the food there, until everyone is satisfied. Being outside on a beautiful, breezy Mediterranean night with friends, walking from one cafe to another, entering to inhale the rich aromas and tasting another few bites of delicous food, laughing and catching up with the day or week, then moving back outside until another restaurant catches your eye. In America, the closest thing we may have is bar-hopping. France, Italy and Morocco also have their own "small plate" appetizers, encouraging casual chatting and eating in outdoor cafes or in the homes of friends.

Americans love bigger plates (especially on Thanksgiving and All-You-Can-Eat buffets - familiar with the words, "Fill up yer plate"?), encouraging loading it up and eating until you're stuffed, but in Mediterranean countries, small plate appetizers are often offered nearly as meals on their own, shared by everyone at the table. In the Middle East (Israel, Greece, Egypt, Turkey, and Lebanon) bread or pita are set out and salatim (salads - not usually containing lettuce) such as hummus, baba ganoush (eggplant), a tomato dish, etc. are set on the table and everyone dips or scoops them onto the breads.

Smaller plates results in a small spoonful of this and that, so it's constantly fresh, encouraging talking as the focus isn't on everyone digging into massive portions. A little bit of this and that between listening and participating in conversation and laughter, and the food has time to fill you.

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We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.

Fresh garden veggies, just out-of-the-oven bread, feta cheese, and fresh fish lightly grilled with tahini sauce

Fresh garden veggies, just out-of-the-oven bread, feta cheese, and fresh fish lightly grilled with tahini sauce
Fresh garden veggies, just out-of-the-oven bread, feta cheese, and fresh fish lightly grilled with tahini sauce

Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food." ~Michael Pollan

Creating New Habits

Tips for changing to a Mediterranean lifestyle diet

It's all about having things prepared, to cut down on bad-food alternatives, as well as not being stressed out over what to fix. If you have food on hand, it's less tempting to grab a snack that's faster, or hit a fast food place.

When you bring home food, wash and cut or separate produce and put in zip lock or plastic airtight containers to make it ready to grab and use, and lengthen it's storage life.

At Thanksgiving we have the kitchen busy with the various foods, once you're cooking, it's really not much more trouble to cook more than one thing, or more of one thing (double the recipe). Put in smaller containers and freeze.

When you have some time, say, a day off, or late at night, or during the day when kids are gone, fix the weeks meals together.

Don't serve while you're still cooking. Eating with people is good for you too.

Socialize, catch up, talk to and spend quality time with your spouse, family and kids without cell phones or electronic devices (yes, this includes even television and computers). Instead, help with homework, wind down, let everyone to have a chance to talk about their day, ask questions. Family meals are important.

Once in a while, invite neighbors, family, co-workers, or people involved in sports or hobbies you or your family enjoy over for a relaxing casual dinner.

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Something to Think About . . .

"According to a Columbia University survey, teenagers who eat with their families at least five days a week have better grades in school and are less prone to substance abuse."

Great Books to Inspire You - A Mediterranean Lifestyle Can Improve Your Life!

It's not just the food, it's the mindset and attitude!

"To eat and drink without a friend is to devour like the lion and the wolf." ~ Epicurus

Have You Started Changing Your Eating Habits As You Get Older? - Or are you still eating junk and fast food like you did in high school and college?

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