I enjoy looking back at the lives of great leaders and thinkers throughout history. There is a tremendous amount of wisdom available to us from the people of ancient times. They lived uncomplicated lives at a slower pace, so they had time to think more deeply and enjoy life. They worked with their hands and spent their time outdoors. They used their minds to create civilizations and cultures. They also enjoyed great food and lived long lives.
Learning From History
In our high-speed, high-pressure, high stress culture, we could learn much from those simpler times. They say we are in the most advanced civilization in history…but are we?
Just look at our food. We’ve developed a processed, preserved, pretend food supply that leaves us listless and sickly. Compare that to the daily diet of the people around the Mediterranean Sea. For five thousand years, people from Damascus to Monaco have been eating a delicious, diverse, and nutrient-rich diet that not only keeps them strong and healthy, but tastes great, too. People in that area are strong and vibrant, with a healthy glow (and a gorgeous tan!)
If you visit there, you will not see a lot of obese people. You won’t see many people on multiple medications for diabetes, hypertension, or leaky gut. Why? Their diet isn’t quietly killing them like the Standard American Diet (SAD).
Today, on “Wellness Wednesday,” I want to tap into the food wisdom that has passed down over centuries along the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea. Naturally, it’s known today as the “Mediterranean Diet.” It’s not weird or complicated. It’s made up of foods you can find in any supermarket. The key is in the combinations.
The Mediterranean Food Groups
Do you remember the food group pyramid they showed you in school? Meats, vegetables, dairy, grains…it’s changed a few times in recent years. You might not even recognize it anymore. The Mediterranean food pyramid, on the other hand, hasn’t changed significantly since the Roman Empire.
The Foundation Is Vegetables
Fresh or cooked, the Med Diet is loaded with vegetables. Every meal is a flash of bright colors – just as beautiful as it is delicious. Fresh herbs and spices are carefully cultivated to bring out the best flavors. Foods on this diet are spicy and aromatic, teasing your senses and luring you in.
A Little Meat
Meat is a part of the diet, but in moderation – maybe toss a little sautéed chicken or steak on a green salad bed. Fish is a key component of the diet. Enjoy herring, tuna, or salmon (even sardines!) a couple of times a week. These fish are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, and they taste great served Med style!
Speaking of fats…while obesity is rare, the rich foods are abundant. Heart-healthy fats like extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds, olives, and avocados are another important part of the diet, and give the food its distinctive, sumptuous flavor. Our culture has bought into the lie that all fats and oils are unhealthy, and that’s a shame. You body needs a certain amount of the right kinds of fats. When you get these fats in your diet, your body knows what to do with them – burning them for energy instead of storing them in the “spare tire.”
Nearly every meal includes a serving of bread. Mediterranean bread is not the pasty, white loaf we eat here. Their bread is fuller, nuttier, with extra fiber and hearty flavor. Important grains include bulgur, barley, farrow, and different rices. You never walk away hungry!
With a climate similar to South Florida, the Mediterranean basin gets hot for much of the year, so hydration is critical. The diet emphasizes water and a little wine, and leaves out sugars and milk. For your dairy intake, grab a cup of yogurt or a bit of cheese. For sweets, enjoy the amazing fruits of the Middle East: pomegranates, figs, grapes, and oranges. But don’t go without water. One measure I like to keep in mind is “half your weight in ounces of water.” So, if you weigh 180 pounds, you should be drinking 90 ounces of water PER DAY. The Med Diet keeps the water always in front of you, so you fight infection, keep your muscles limber, and think clearly.
One Other Thing
Oh, and there’s one other part of the diet that you might not have thought about. The cultures of the Mediterranean have major thing in common: people are often outdoors, keeping active, eating in social groups, playing, dancing, and working together. While the diet is mostly about the “Eat Right” part of a balanced life, there is an important “Live Right” aspect here as well. Eating well is like a one-legged stool without exercise and fresh air. This diet keeps it all together.
Here’s a simple visual, so you can get a sense of the proportions of each of the groups.
The Tip of the Iceberg
The Mediterranean Diet has so much to offer that I can’t possibly address it all in one post. I want to encourage you to do your own research into the healthy lifestyle options that have been lost to us in the last two generations. It’s almost like archeology, discovering old ways of life. In fact, one great resource to start with is oldwayspt.org. (http://oldwayspt.org/) As you dig in, you’ll find that you were created to enjoy good food – the right kinds of food – and that it will help you live longer, stronger, and healthier.
And you can imagine Aristotle and Abraham sitting down to dinner with you.