It is nothing new that eating a “Mediterranean Diet” is linked to better health. Now, a new study confirms this and perhaps expands on the benefits. It just so happens that I love the foods associated with a Mediterranean diet and now I have even more reason to chow down on olive oil, fish, chickpeas, cheese and yogurt, and have red wine with my meals. Lovely! However, I think one must be careful in deciding what specific foods actually make up this diet and here is where the modern interpretation of something that has just been natural to people living around the Mediterranean Sea has some serious flaws. In other words, don’t take food choices to extremes and ruin your enjoyment of meals. Pleasure in the eating experience is actually one of the factors in the healthfulness of this diet.
For example, this particular research, conducted by the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Navarra, counted meat, dairy, and alcohol consumption as negatives. Only consumption of vegetables, pulses, fruit, nuts, cereals and fish were positives. Huh? Why? People who traditionally consume this type of diet and grew up with it consume tons of yogurt and wine and other alcohol. Cheeses are also big, as are very rich substances like butter, as well as the usual olive oil, fish, legumes and fruit. Bread is huge, as well, and it is often not whole grain. Yes, red meat is not eaten as much, but it and pork are widely consumed in non-Muslim countries, and lamb and goat are eaten in all of them, just not in huge quantities.
I think quantities are the key. When I visit these countries, I see people eating everything, with an emphasis on the traditional foods usually associated with this diet. They also get a lot more exercise than the average American or folks in some other countries. There is no weight problem in continental Europe that I can see. Back in 2004, I went back to Europe for the first time after being gone for 30 years. I was deathly afraid that American consumerism would have taken over, there would be Walmarts and McDonalds everywhere, and a lot of fat people.
Not true, we were the fat Americans, although my wife and I are not obese. The French, Italian and German women are still gorgeous (and I’m pretty sure my wife thought
the men were, as well) and slim (I am sure it is the same in other European countries). We saw 70 year old men and women riding bicycles up and down huge hills in France and Italy. One speeds, not 30. I think every German student rides a bicycle. Just try to park a car near the university in Heidelberg. Europeans love to walk. I could go on.
For me, olive oil is the base of a lot of what I cook. I cook from scratch whenever possible. I eat a lot of fish, but also love other meats. I like cheeses and yogurt and legumes. I like fresh vegetables. I drink a lot of red wine. I like pasta. The only place I really fall short is in the fruit department. I need to do better with that and cut back a little on the red meats. Otherwise, I think my diet is pretty healthy, even if it is also often rich. But, moderation and exercise is the key to not depriving yourself of the foods you love.