The Mediterranean Diet
Where Is the Mediterranean Diet From?
When people talk about the Mediterranean diet they are usually thinking of Italy, Spain, France and Greece. Portugal is considered a member of the club, even though it is not on the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, there are 21 countries with a Mediterranean coast line and most of them have some dietary things in common.
The peoples of a large part of the Mediterranean region were mainly agricultural until recent times. They ate and drank what was produced locally. They were austere times, with little money for food that was not nutritious. Meat consumption was low – specially red meat. Sugary foods were mostly for special occasions.Bulk was provided by beans, rice and bread.
They were fortunate in some ways, as the diet they had to follow would come to be recognised later as one of the healthiest in the world. It would become internationally popular, as its benefits were increasingly recognised. Much of the rest of the world fell in love with the Mediterranean Diet, particularly with the arrival of the obesity crisis.This happened just as the Mediterranean peoples wer starting to abandon their traditional food, in favour of junk food!
Is the Mediterranean the Best Diet?
There are so many diets to lose weight! Many of them are ridiculous and, sometimes, dangerous. They nearly all have one thing in common: they don´t work in the medium to long term!
They may well work in the short term. After all, they generally involve consuming fewer calories, whatever the theory behind them may be. 12 months or so after the end of the diets, people who lost weight find it´s coming back on again. Of course! The diet finished, maybe with the desired weight loss. Then they went back to their previous eating and drinking habits. The habits that gave them the overweight problem in the first place.
The Med Diet is different from nearly all other diets. It is not a food regimen devised specifically for weight loss. Rather, it is the way a part of the European population ate and drank until fairly recently. It was the way of eating and drinking of a large part of the population of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. These countries had different diets, often depending on local conditions and availability. But there were also many aspects in common in the food and drink consumed. This is specially the case with the countries generally considered for these purposes. Greece, Italy, Spain, and southern France. Portugal, with a similar diet but no Med coastline, is usually included as “Med” for these purposes.!
"The Poor Man's Diet"
The Mediterranean Diet was sometimes referred to as the “Poor Mans´diet”. It might equally well be called the “Sensible Diet”, when you consider its ingredients.
It includes a lot of fruit and vegetables. Also, plenty of legumes and nuts. A little meat and more fish. Some cheese, but less milk. Not much food made in factories or other forms of what is often junk food. Sugar in all its forms and guises is severely limited. Olive oil is widely used in many Med countries. A little red wine is permitted. (See here for more details on the main foods making up the Mediterranean diet.)
It is a diet of moderation. Little is forbidden but concentration is on food that is not only delicious but is also “good for you”. Mainly food that Granny would have approved of and fed her kids. Olive oil is ubiquitous in the Med countries and is, perhaps, the main common denominator.
Unesco Approves of the Mediterranean Diet
Unesco classified the Mediterranean Diet as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”. This was after it was petitioned to do so by Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Cyprus, Croatia and Morocco. They praised the the diet as one that promotes hospitality, neighbourliness, intercultural dialogue and creativity.
It is a pity, therefore, that the Mediterranean Diet is generally in drastic decline exactly in the countries where it should be strongest – those round the Mediterranean. See below.
Decline of the Med Diet - in the Mediterranean!
The Head of the International Foundation of Mediterranean Diet has been quoted as saying that the Mediterranean diet has decreased by 50% in Spain over the last 30 years. In Greece, the decline is even greater, at 70%.
Increasing prosperity and the arrival of (mostly) greasy and unhealthy fast food has drastically changed the eating habits of Mediterranean countries. Possibly this change has been partly caused by the perception that fast food – “junk” food – is the diet of wealthy countries. Hence, it was considered as part of a lifestyle they wanted too. Certainly, eating habits around the world are becoming increasingly globalised.
The predominance of local seasonal food in peoples´diets has gone, with the arrival of supermarkets everywhere. These shops sell a lot of manufactured foods, crammed with preservatives and sugar and other strange-sounding ingredients. This has pushed along the increase in convenience and junk food. Mass tourism has also accelerated this process. Northern European and American tourists, which make up the majority, often expect to eat the same junk when on holiday as they do at home.