Food for thought

Mediterranean Diet – Necessity… Solution… Choice… Opportunity

Most of us continue experiencing times and situations that are unprecedented, to say the least. The financial crisis leads us to re-evaluate our daily habits, and to scrutinize expenses that we took for granted until very recently. Does this bring us closer to a way of living gradually forgotten by modern habits? We had surely diverged from our predecessors way of life, but life, it seems, has ways of re-establishing equilibrium that are at least unexpected…

For the last 2 decades a lot has been written and said about the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet for human health. Longevity, prevention of serious diseases such as heart conditions, diabetes control, cancer, even healthy weight maintenance have at times been attributed to the Mediterranean diet. This has been developed into a global trend, aided by celebrity chefs, and doctors worldwide. Can however nutrition on its own be responsible for all these nice things? Or is the Mediterranean “way of life”, of which the diet is just a part? And finally, what is this “Mediterranean way of life”?

med-diet-2-w300The Mediterranean coastline include many countries of South Europe, North Africa and Western Asia, each one with different people, each with their own habits, ethnic customs and traditions. They share a lot of common things too, such as the climate, helping them to spend a lot of time outdoors, cultivating the land, and develop agriculture much more than their northern or southern neighbours. Let our imagination take us a few decades back, to the 30’s, in a somewhat remote, yet self sufficient place… let’s say the island of Crete, because finally that is the definition of the Mediterranean diet. How did they live? What did they eat?

They definitely lacked a lot of today’s luxuries, and in order to obtain the daily necessities they had to work much harder. Their main activities were agriculture and farming in general, without the tools and automated facilities such as tractors, irrigation, rearing, etc. Crops, dairy products and meat were the result of very hard manual labour of men as well as women, and most of the time children spent considerable time helping their parents. To turn wheat into flour, manual or animal powered mills had to be involved. The fertile land and nice weather rewarded generously this hard work, nad as a result, agricultural products were the basis of their nutrition, not out of choice, but out of necessity! Dairy products were consumed in moderation, and meat was reserved for special occasions. Animals were precious for their products such as milk, wool, eggs, etc. Meals were an important daily ritual where the whole family spent time together for lunch and dinner. Breakfast and mid-day snacks were never missed, as of course was home made wine …and distillates in moderation. That’s how people lived day after day, usually until their very old age.

med-diet-3-w300We gradually moved away from this model of life, to the current, “western” lifestyle very rapidly, with a constant lack of time and the nutritional habits that go with it. Stress, rushing, meal skipping, fast food, take-aways, etc, foods with too much salt, high fat content, and serious lack of nutrients. The dinner table lost its value as a family activity. All this played its role in today’s known unfortunate situations such as weight gain, obesity, increase in child obesity and diabetes, heart disease, etc. A vicious circle, or rather an explosive spiral.

And now, here comes the crisis and puts us in the process of habit re-evaluation.
– Less food outside home in fast food restaurants, take-aways and deliveries. Besides our pocket, this will be beneficial to our health, since we reduceour salt and fat intake and surely total calories.
– Less red meat
– More pulses. The best food in existence and one of the cheapest. Good for our health and family budget.
– Seasonal fruit and vegetables. The closer a fruit or vegetable is to its right season, the more nutritious it is. Because it’s fresher, it has not travelled great distances to our table, it has not undergone artificial ripening methods or complicated production processes. So, it’s cheaper as well! You don’t need tomatoes and water melon in the winter, or tangerines in the middle of the summer.
– As far as fish is concerned, well usually the humbler the fish the better for you. Sardines, anchovies, mackerel, etc are very rich in Ω3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and very cheap!
– Finally, we look for local products. Let’s support Greek production and contribute our small part in the solution of the country’s balance of payments problem

beat-tis-zois-w250The only missing aspect of the “Mediterranean way of life” is the “hard manual labour”, because most of us don’t have to sweat a lot in our daily life. There is only one way to replace this, and that is exercise. And don’t think of expensive gym subscriptions. A bicycle, a pair of running shoes and out you get… Cycle, run, walk, sweat, get your body tired! The feeling of accomplishing something difficult will satisfy you immensely and will make you feel great! After the first few times your body will be asking you for it!

The web is full of detail about the Mediterranean diet and instructions about how to follow it (some examples are listed below), and TV is full of celebrity chefs and cooking programs. And always remember those old grandma’s recipes. Her experience for sure taught her a lot.

It is therefore the need to live with less, that takes us down paths of older habits, showing the way to lighten the burden of daily routine, and giving everybody a chance. For us to develop healthy eating habits, adopting a more active and creative lifestyle and for Greek producers the much needed demand for their products.

And always remember that the only way to success is to be optimistic! Throughout history no pessimist achieved anything… ever!