By Dr. Annell St. Charles (PhD, RD)
The Mediterranean Diet has been a hot topic in both scientific articles and the popular press for many years because of its reported benefits for improving health and reducing overall mortality. However, the truth is that these benefits are the result of not only the diet traditionally consumed by people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, but also the overall lifestyle enjoyed by that populace.
The Mediterranean Way embraces a lifestyle that seeks balance between work and leisure; movement and relaxation; solitary and social time; and fresh food and convenient food products. It’s about enjoying life to the fullest, which includes maintaining good physical, emotional, and mental health throughout life.
The process of changing to a Mediterranean diet can be approached step-by-step, for example by:
- replacing one or two meat meals each week with fish to change the composition of fat consumed.
- adding one more daily serving of vegetables to the current average number of servings to help ease the move toward a daily goal of five servings or more.
- emphasizing more colorful vegetables will also increase the availability of antioxidants.
- substituting fresh fruit for one fatty, sugary dessert per week to help make fresh fruit a habit; even if desserts are not regularly eaten, planning a weekly meal that begins or ends in fresh fruit will be a helpful. dietary change.
Additional suggestions for making a gradual change include:
- switching from refined bread and grain products to whole grain products to help boost fiber and nutrient intake.
- substituting beans for grains a couple of times a week.
- getting in the nut habit—all natural, raw, or roasted nuts are good, and be sure to include walnuts.
- if drinking a cocktail is a daily event, switching to the more antioxidant and anti-inflammatory-rich red wine.
The dietary habits of the people of the Mediterranean region are greatly influenced by the climate, which for much of the year in the southernmost region tends toward warm, sunny days that cool off at night. The long, sunny days encourage a pattern of midday meals designed to create a break in work activities, often followed by a stroll and a nap to restore energy for the rest of the day and night. Dinner tends to be eaten late and is typically enjoyed with friends or family, often in an outdoor setting, and always with a glass or two of wine made from locally-grown grapes. Meals are often long and slow-paced. Other lifestyle habits of the Mediterranean region that are thought to influence health are the tendency to spend more time walking, tending to gardens, and biking for recreation and transportation.
Our homestudy course addresses “the Mediterranean Way,” the way of life that includes the diet, activity, and social habits of people living in that part of the world.