Several Research centers and Universities around the world have dealt with the way of life and the diet of the Mediterranean people, like that of the Cretans for instance, in an attempt to discover the reasons of their longevity and the low disease incident rate among those people. The results and findings were, to no surprise to us, that Mediterranean diet was the reason behind everything.
The basic conclusion of all these researches was that the Mediterranean diet was the basis for the healthy living of the Mediterranean people, as this diet, essentially way of living, and was the diet followed for thousands of years in the Mediterranean area. The unique attributes of the Mediterranean diet that differentiate it from the diet of other nations are:
- the high consumption of Olive oil
- the great consumption of fruits and vegetables and
- the low consumption of red meat
The daily diet of the Mediterranean people was highly depended on the local and seasonal production of foods. The Mediterranean diet was extremely seasonal. Different Mediterranean food was cooked in spring, different in winter and different in the summer. The Mediterranean recipes are simple retaining the individual tastes of the ingredient. Complex and rather complicated Mediterranean foods were prepared during the holiday seasons and however complex they were, they all had as their base the Mediterranean olive oil.
A new day in the life of the Mediterranean people would start with breakfast that would usually include bread, olives, white cheese, rarely eggs and herbal, from mountain herbs, tea. The breakfast would also include seasonal fruits and some times, during the cold days of winter, a glass of red wine. Lunch was also simple and it included vegetables, legumes and beans cooked in various ways and combinations. Dinner was light and it mainly included dairy products and pasta. Olive oil had a predominant role in the Mediterranean cooking and recipes. Also the habits and traditions of the Mediterranean people to gather wild vegetables and herbs during the winter and spring seasons fortified their body with the necessary nutrients thus raising the immunity levels of the people. These herbs and vegetables were consumed daily in combination with olive oil, boiled with olive oil dressing or baked in pies. During the summer, salad made of fresh vegetables was a must.
Legumes were eaten very frequently in the Mediterranean diet. Every household had a cellar in which they stored all kind of dried legumes, such as beans, broad beans, lentils and many others. These were mainly eaten during the winter times, while in spring and summer, the diet was lighter, and beans and other vegetables, like artichokes and zucchini, were eaten in their fresh green form.
Wholegrain bread as well as wheat and barley tacos were always on the table. Plain flour was used during holidays or big celebrations and with it they used to make delicious breads and sweets. The rest to the cereal products such as bulgur, that was used to make bulgur pilaf, were used for the main dish of the day.
Fruits were consumed daily in high frequency. We have to note here that the consumption of fruits was due to the high production of seasonal fruits favoured by the mild climate of the Mediterranean Sea area. The climate enabled the production of the high nutrition fruits throughout the year. The daily table was supplemented with wild mushrooms, snails, honey, raisins, almond nuts and dried figs and as stated earlier meals were accompanied by red dry and sweet wine especially during the winter period.
Consumption of red meat was rare and was done mainly on Sundays and during the holidays and big festivities. Specifically for the Christian nations, fasting for religious purposes was observed during several periods of the year and during those periods no meat was consumed. The religious fasting has its effects on the health of the people. Red meat was from goat and sheep while white meat was from pork, chicken, pigeons and rabbits.
Fresh fish was frequently consumed, especially at the coastal communities, since most the people were fishermen by occupation. Octopus, squid and the other seafood were eaten during the fasting period and some, like Octopus, were consumed in dried form as well.
As stated many times, the Mediterranean diet is a way of living. The way of living of the Mediterranean people involved daily manual work in the fields, woods, mountains and sea and this implied daily physical exercise. The early morning rise, the walking in the fields and the night walks completed a day’s exercises and together with the simple and lean Mediterranean food contributed to a healthy living for the Mediterranean people and this resulted to their longevity.