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The Mediterranean Diet Plan is About More Than the Food

It's not just what you eat on the Mediterranean Diet plan but how you eat it that provides health benefits

HEALTH GOES STRONG
ROBYN FLIPSE

What makes the Mediterranean diet plan so special? The cuisines of Spain, France, Italy, Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Malta, Tunisia, Turkey, Algeria, Albania, Greece, Israel, Croatia, Libya and Lebanon - all countries that have a border on the Mediterranean - certainly are not the same. Some use rice as a staple, others rely on wheat. Some feature pork, while others forbid it. Some drink wine every day, yet some abstain completely.

Could the health benefits be due to something other than the food?

What Foods Make the Mediterranean Diet Plan Special?

In the 1960s researchers first reported longer lifespans and less chronic disease among people in Spain, southern Italy, and Greece compared to the US, Japan and several European countries. The scientists attributed the health and longevity of the people living along the Mediterranean to their diet.

After 50 years of continuing study into what they were eating, a Mediterranean Diet Pyramid was published in 1995 (we had Food Pyramids before we got My Plate), then it was updated in 2008.

The current version includes foods recommended for every meal in the first tier: fruits, vegetables, grains (mostly whole), nuts, legumes, seeds, olives, olive oil, herbs and spices. The next level adds fish and seafood, to be eaten at least twice a week. The third tier introduces moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt, either daily or weekly. Then the top and final space is for sweets and meats, both to be eaten sparingly. Water and wine are the only beverages called for.

The major distinctions from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are the emphasis on foods from plant sources at every meal, using olive oil as the primary fat, choosing minimally processed food, and eating very little red meat. But that's not all that's different.

What Else Makes the Mediterranean Diet Plan Special?

As it turns out, the way people eat is as important as what they eat. For folks living the good life along the Mediterranean, mealtimes are social occasions enjoyed in the company of family and friends. That does not mean they eat off their best china at every meal, but rather, they spend time at the table savoring their food without the distractions of their jobs or beeping electronic gadgets.

And that just might be the best way to begin your journey towards a more Mediterranean diet. Yes, the whole wheat couscous, Kalamata olives and fresh fish are important, but who knows what else might happen if you come to the table ready to sit down, log off, and tune in to one another?