Mediterranean Diet & Getting Started
There has not been butter in my fridge for a very long time. That’s not to say I don’t ever eat it. But this isn’t about cheat meals, or about “diets” as we know them to be. Rather, the Mediterranean Diet is more a style, or way of eating – based on foods native to countries and regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Stretching from The Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco, along southern Europe and Northern Africa, to the coast of Turkey, the Mediterranean Sea covers approximately 970,000 square miles. So, let’s go to club Med, shall we?
In Part I of my ➡ eBook series Inventing Fitness, The Greeks, a Society, and its Strength, I researched the typical diet of a Greek citizen 2500 years ago. One aspect I found particularly interesting, is how archeologists now have a clear view, and better understanding of the foods this civilization ate, by analyzing the residue on terra cotta dishware, storage pots, and plates unearthed on digs.
A Hellenistic Period Fish Plate
4th Century BCE
“At Athens, under Pallus eye; Boetia sends us eels to fry.”
Fish tales told here
The highfalutin saved meat for special occasions. Fish was the primary staple in the ancient Mediterranean diet, and remains still today. Bronze Age murals of Crete, the largest island of Greece, show fisherman carrying fish of every kind, including squid and sardines – as do surviving late Classical and Hellenistic fish plates. With small sections in the center to hold oil, they are painted like the amphora vases, in characteristic red and black and show multiple types of marin life.
It is clear that our ancient Greek predecessors refined and sustained on the original Mediterranean diet. Seasonal, fresh, and oh so simple, the citizens of this society ate straight from the land and sea – from farm to table. Many surviving works of Dioclese, Galen, Plato, and Hippocrates show complete, thorough, and sometimes exhaustingly in depth looks into their understandings of food, and it’s correlation to health. In the Classical Greek Reader, The Sophists at Dinner is described as “the earliest known surviving cook book in western literature….” In 15 books no less.
“But with respect to whatever of these fruits are eaten raw; such as pears, and figs, and Delphic apples, and such fruits, one ought to watch the opportunity when they will have the juice which they contain…”
Why join this club? Studies show that a diet high in Omega 3 fatty acids is beneficial for the brain. “Brain food” as it’s known, and rightfully so. Healthline.com “Omega – 3’s are crucial for brain growth and development in infants. DHA accounts for 40% of the polyunsaturated fatty acids in the brain and 60% in the retina of the eye.” DHA, or Docosahexaenoic Acid, a long chain omega -3 fatty acid, is the most abundant.
Fats, one of three macronutrients, are necessary to the bodys function. No, not all fats are created equal, and trans fat in particular, have been the scour of dieters for sometime. Trans-unsaturated fatty acids, first widely produced in the 1950’s for baking and frying, have been shown to greatly increase risk of coronary heart disease. Seemingly overnight everything has become “0 Trans Fat.” Now, some countries have limits as to how much can be used.
Olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, (“good”) became a very lucrative commodity during ancient times. Athletes who took to rubbing it on their skin before training required sponsors. A costly skin care regimen indeed. Studies continue to show that populations from these regions, have lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, and strokes. A 2017 CDC report states, “Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women,” in the United States. According to The American Dietetic Association’s Complete Food & Nutrition Guide 4th Edition, “Another reason to consume healthy oils in place of solid fats: neither monounsaturated nor polyunsaturated fats raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels in the blood.”
Herb de Provence
In regards to a “correct” way to start this – there is no right or wrong way. Below are several options to get started with that absolutely, with no question, will “fit into your macros.”
Apple Cider Vinegar
Beans & legumes
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates
Red Wine Vinegar
What to avoid or limit?
Athenian citizens did not have vending machines in the agora. We call it “junk” food for a reason – and soda’s, candies, and powdered, processed what not, may be fine for a cheat day – but steer clear from putting them into you’re shopping cart.
Red meat – I love a good steak. Really, I do. This year, on my birthday, the grill marks on my Strip were as picture perfect as the starched white tablecloths. Red meat has never been a large part of the Mediterranean Diet.
Refined sugar. Why? According to the Annals of Internal Medicine author Hannah E. Bloomfield, “It turns out that the obesity epidemic in this country is probably more due to our increased consumption of refined grains, and added sugar and not so much from our fat consumption.”
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” – The Greek Philosopher Aristotle 384 322 BCE
21 countries border the Mediterranean Sea. With that sort of abundance in influence I like to think of a Mediterranean diet as more than just the core principles of olive, seafood, and grains, and the typical “..dairy that comes mainly in the form of cheese and yogurt.” I take pride in that I have perfected my variations of chermoula with chopped parsley and coriander – from time working in a Moroccan restaurant – bruschetta from a stint in a Sicilian owned establishment years ago – and a calamari recipe I should publish.
I do not believe in over complicating things. Is this a “diet?” No. To me, it is a style, and way of eating. That of fresh, full of flavor, and nothing but – healthier versions of macro-nutrients our bodies need. For those who question or doubt – is broiled salmon better than a Big Mac? Is a salad dressed in oil and vinegar not better than one in buttermilk? Fresh vegetables don’t have nutrition labels to check nutrition facts before purchasing. (We just know to buy them, right?) While the naysayers ponder this all – I’ll go back to making my ➡ tapenade.
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