Dietary characteristics of the Mediterranean diet include
- Vegetables as a staple and predominantly drizzled with olive oil
- Wild greens were eaten in abundance and as a variety, as near as 70 different types have been identified
- Fruits are in abundance and are the main sweet
- Grains are minimally processed and therefore with all nutritious elements consumed
- Olives and olive oil are central and the principal source of dietary fat
- Fish and shellfish are important source of healthy protein and are usually eaten grilled
- Cheese and yoghurt are the main source of dairy and are sourced from goats and sheep’s milk
- Nuts, legumes and seeds are a good source of healthy fat, protein and fiber
- Herbs and spices are used liberally and add flavour
- Eggs are regularly used in baked dishes
- Meats are eaten in small portions and historically tended to be wild meat like boar or feral chicken
- Sweets are eaten sparingly at celebrations, except local raw honey which is often consumed
- Wine is consumed regularly but moderately
Home cooked Food
One of the most underrated aspects of the Mediterranean diet is the focus on home cooking and the use of only raw ingredients.
Through a use of only raw ingredients, there was also a focus on regional, local and seasonal foods which were nutrient dense, free from any chemical pesticides or fertilizers and intrinsically linked with the needs of the body for that given season.
As well as a dietary health advantage of home cooking, there also comes a spiritual and psychological advantage. Through home cooking, techniques are passed on from generation to generation and the art of cuisine is treasured.
It’s a lifestyle
There is a focus on cultural activities, festivals and celebrations. There is an emphasis on values of hospitality, neighbourliness, intercultural dialogue and creativity, and a way of life guided by respect for diversity.
The culture respects craftsmanship and production of traditional receptacles, mostly ceramic. The role of the women as the teacher is recognized and celebrated as they pass on the importance of tradition, safeguarding techniques and respecting seasonal rhythms.
Farmers markets are also recognized as playing a key role in society, as spaces for cultivating and transmitting the diet during daily practice of exchange, agreement and mutual respect.
In Greece they follow Greek Orthodox religion and fasting rituals are an important part of their beliefs and subsequently their health.
What about Dairy?
While dairy is problematic for many cultures those eating a traditional Mediterranean diet seem to have few isssues.
Cheese and yoghurt are consumed regularly. One of the key elements of the Mediterranean diet is white cheese which is fresh cheese, lighter to digest and made from any kind of milk.
In Crete, cheese was made from mixing lemon juice with milk and common types which were widely consumed include feta, halloumi, cypriot. Endemic plant species in Crete exceed 160 and are the reason for the high nutrient content in the milk of the sheep and goats which are farmed on the island.
Shepherding is the oldest profession in Crete and livestock farming today is still semi domesticated with animals grazing on areas of heath and cultivated land. The milk of the sheep and goat is a key element in the local diet and makes wonderful cheese as well as yoghurt.
Benefits of goat’s and sheep’s milk includes high medium chain fatty acid content and ease in digestibility, low in lactose and slightly alkaline
Yoghurt is a staple in the Greek diet and is made from sheep and goats milks, making it rich in calcium, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and sodium with small amounts of selenium, zinc and iron. It is also rich in Vitamins A, D and B12. But by far its greatest attribute is its high content of active culture like bulgaricus and acidophilus which promote healthy digestion and protect the intestinal tract.
Can it make me healthy?
All aspects of the Mediterranean diet are a vast improvement from the eating habits and processed food-like substances of the western diet.
Heaps of health benefits are linked with the traditional Mediterranean diet, including life span, healthy weight, improved brain function, fewer symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, fertility, eye health, lower risk of cancer and heart disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol.
What about Red Wine?
I knew someone would ask this!
Yes, many people include red wine at meals as part of their Mediterranean lifestyle. Studies even suggest wine may reduce some heart disease risk factors due to its anti-oxidant properties.
If you are drinking wine, aim for a daily maximum of two glasses of wine if you’re a male or one glass if you’re a female.