The Mediterranean diet - love food, love life

by Neil Morris

Since the 1990’s, the Mediterranean-style diet has received widespread recognition for its health benefits and nutritional value. The dietary pattern is based on the cuisine of Spain, Italy, Greece and Morocco where it has been an integral part of the culture and history for centuries.

mediterranean-diet

If you are planning on adopting this style of diet then eating Spanish food can provide you with all the principle aspects that are essential to this dietary regime.

Although the term implies that all Mediterranean food is healthy, this of course is not always the case and certain foods are still consumed in these countries that would not be considered part of a healthy diet.

The principle of the diet refers to a certain generic eating style that is more common in the Mediterranean than in the rest of Europe.  The characteristics of this diet include high consumption of olive oil, vegetables, cereals, fruit and fish combined with moderate consumption of dairy products and low consumption of meat products. Moderate but regular consumption of wine, in particular red wine, is also considered to be an important characteristic contributing to improved health.

This style of eating is more predominant in the coastal regions of these countries where fish is more widely available and forms a greater part of the daily eating routine than meat. In these regions olive oil is also preferred to butter or lard and is thought to play an integral role in the cuisine.

Olive oil

Olive oil contains high levels of monounsaturated fats (including oleic acid) which health specialists believe can be linked to a reduction in the risk of heart disease. The antioxidants in olive oil are also believed to help balance and reduce cholesterol levels and scientific studies have revealed many other health benefits.olives-by-angelo-gemmi

There have been studies that show that following this type of eating pattern as part of your daily routine can increase life expectancy and help reduce the risk of dying from cancer, contracting diabetes as well as developing Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. Olive oil forms an integral part of the Mediterranean diet and is widely used in Spanish cuisine.


UNESCO

In 2010 UNESCO decided that the Mediterranean diet should be inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. As well as considering the health benefits, they recognised the cultural traditions and social aspects that have been passed down by the people of these regions. Food is a communal part of these societies and promotes social interaction at the table and is celebrated in rituals and festivals. It also helps to conserve traditional practises such as fishing and farming which are then passed on to future generations.

It is the communal aspect of the system that is also thought to be a contributing factor to good health. The preparation of healthy food combined with social interaction is thought to help with relaxation and remove feelings of stress and anxiety. Food is enjoyed and celebrated, rather than simply consumed as fuel, and the mind, body and soul are stimulated as a result.

Bearing in mind the principles outlined, you can easily start to plan your own healthy eating pattern and start introducing the correct elements of the mediterranean diet into your own daily menus. Don’t think of food as a chore but more of a method to help you unwind from the stress of day to day life. Enjoy preparing, tasting and sharing your food – most meals can be prepared and cooked inside an hour and there are recipes to suit every lifestyle.

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