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The Mediterranean Diet

LET'S EAT LIKE WE’RE IN ITALY!

Article by Lynette Standley

Photography by Lynette Standley + Boise Lifestyle

You’ve heard of the Mediterranean Diet, right? Actually, let’s start with its foundation and what we’ll call the Holy Trinity of Italian food: bread, wine and olive oil. How could this be a bad thing?

Health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet have been lauded for decades. Consider that some towns in Italy and Greece are among the largest populations of centenarians in the world. And not only does it promote longevity and good health, but it is also delicious—and includes wine!

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While we currently can’t travel to try it out firsthand, it’s fairly easy—especially in the summer—to integrate this healthy diet at home. Gardens are starting to produce, and outdoor markets, like the Boise Farmers Market, are opening up, where you’ll find an abundance of fresh foods and local products. 

Let’s look at some of the key foods that come from the climate zone and countries considered Mediterranean: olive oil, legumes (beans like chickpeas, cannellini and fava), unrefined cereals and whole grains (bread, pasta); eat all you want. Moderate to high consumption: fish (fresh varieties or canned in olive oil—many U.S. stores are carrying these now) poultry and eggs. Moderate to low consumption: dairy products and wine. Highest moderation: non-fish meat products (mainly red meat). Also included in that are refined grains like white rice and white bread, potatoes and sweets.

In my 20 years of travel to Italy with small groups from the U.S., I notice two things: they do eat like this, but they don’t eat large five-course meals every day like we do our trips! They also walk and bike much more regularly to get to the market or work. Add in the afternoon nap following lunch, and you have a recipe for longevity. 

A couple other observations: they eat small breakfasts that typically include a croissant or yogurt with an espresso or cappuccino. Mid-morning they’ll have another coffee and fruit or nuts. Often their largest meal is at 1:30 or 2 p.m. (pasta, vegetables, bread) and later in the evening maybe another pasta or vegetable and protein. And while they are famous for their desserts like tiramisu and panna cotta, a more routine “dessert” is fresh fruit or cheese.

The Mediterranean Diet is not necessarily a weight loss diet, although with a healthy balance of these foods together with daily walks or workouts, it could be a happy byproduct. Rather, studies have linked this diet with decreased risk of illnesses like Alzheimer’s and lung disease, as well as protection against allergies and asthma.

In the second photo (above) is Harvard’s Mediterranean version of the Food Pyramid to give you an idea what and how much of each food group is recommended.

While the diet became a thing in the 1960s in Europe, Americans ran with it in the '80s. And it’s still proven to be a positive healthy choice. 

Since it has been around—out of necessity and availability—this truly goes back a few thousand years.

There are olive trees in southern Italy, Sicily and Greece that are 3,000 years old and still producing!

Olive oil has been a key part of their diet and daily life for thousands of years. We will save that tasty topic for another time!

Meanwhile, here is an easy summer recipe that fits the Med model:

  • 2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can tuna packed in olive oil, slightly drained
  • 2 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • half a red onion, sliced

Stir together adding more olive oil, sea salt and ground pepper to taste. Serve over a bed of arugula as an option. Buon appetito!

Source: Cypress Tours