What is the Mediterranean Diet?
In a very general sense, the Mediterranean Diet is simply the traditional diet of the people and cultures living around the Mediterranean Sea. It includes the cuisines of Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. That’s a lot of cuisines. Think Italian, Spanish, Greek, southern French, Albanian, Sardinian, Cretan, Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Libyan, Egyptian, Israeli, Palestinian, Lebanese, and Syrian food. That’s a pretty diverse set of cultures and cuisines, and it’s not even a comprehensive list, which brings me to another point: there really isn’t one Mediterranean Diet. In fact, it’s not really a “diet” in the conventional sense of a set of strict eating rules. It’s really more of a collection of cuisines and cultural practices that have some fundamental features in common.
The Mediterranean Diet is heavy on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, nuts and seeds, and fish and seafood. It’s fairly high fat, with the majority of that fat coming from Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Poultry, dairy (mostly in fermented forms like yogurt and cheese), and eggs are eaten in moderation, and red meats are eaten occasionally. Small amounts of alcohol (particularly red wine) also figure into the equation, although this practice obviously isn’t observed in the Mediterranean region’s Muslim communities. There is evidence, however, that the alcohol plays an important role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
For a great basic primer on the Mediterranean diet, I recommend checking out the Oldways website.
Why the Mediterranean Diet?
Special diets are very popular in America today. I live in Portland, Oregon, where people make their own kimchee, eat lots of kale, and have a kombucha scoby growing in their refrigerator. Consequently I know a lot of people who are vegan, raw vegan, or on the Paleo diet. I also know my share of diabetics who do the Atkins-y ketogenic thing. But me? I’m eating Mediterranean Diet style these days. Why?
Did you know that the Mediterranean diet is one of the most well researched diets there is? It’s true. For instance, the Mediterranean Diet is well regarded as an anti-inflammatory diet, and it has loads of research to support this claim. In fact, if you go to the Arthritis Foundation’s website and search for an arthritis diet, they’ll refer you to “The Ultimate Anti-Inflammatory Diet”, because arthritis involves inflammation. And what exactly is “The Ultimate Inflammation Diet,” you ask? Why yes, it’s the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet also has a solid body of scientific research that supports its ability to reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, stroke, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s also capable of lowering high blood pressure and improving blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity in diabetics.
If you’re a fan of evidence-based nutrition and medicine, it’s hard not to be impressed by the benefits extolled upon the Mediterranean diet. Given that literally everyone in the western world is at risk of developing one or more of the health issues described above, we could all probably benefit in the long run from eating Mediterranean style.