The Mediterranean region is known for its beauty, diversity, the variety of fish that come from the sea, and the diet that takes its name from the region. The region encompasses the countries that ring the Mediterranean Sea. On the north side of the sea are Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Monaco, Serbia, Slovenia, and Spain. The southern part of the region includes Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Libya, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey. Despite the wide range of countries that comprise the Mediterranean region, when the Mediterranean diet is referenced the most common countries discussed include Spain, southern France, Italy, Greece, the isle of Crete, and the Middle East. When reviewing the diets in these countries there are differences in what constitutes the Mediterranean diet, but the common factors are the same: a focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish.
The Mediterranean diet has been enjoyed for centuries, but within the last sixty years it has been the subject of much interest. People in the southern Mediterranean countries tend to have less heart disease, even though they consume more fat than many dietary guidelines recommend. In addition, a core element of diet in many of the Mediterranean countries is the consumption of wine. These two factors together seem to contradict the concept of healthful eating, but for people in the Mediterranean they are a part of life. Another factor that characterizes the diet is the use of oils, nuts, and seeds. The use of oils, in place of animal fats, seems to provide not only more healthy fats but also provides a variety of phytonutrients, which help in the prevention of disease.
Understanding the role of diet in the health of the Mediterranean people has been a topic of much research with studies looking at components of the diet; is it the fruits and vegetables, the wine, or is it the total diet? These questions still perplex researchers, and have caused other researchers to look at the overall lifestyle as a contributor to health. People in the Mediterranean region spend more time walking, tending to gardens, and biking for recreation and transportation, so this movement could also be a factor in the health of the region.
Another lifestyle factor is the importance of time with family and friends. Mealtime is often long and slow paced. The midday meal is a time for everyone to take a break, savoring the meal and the company of others. Taking time to smell, taste, and savor the flavors of a meal improves the feeling of satisfaction, a factor that makes it easier to enjoy smaller portions. Taking time to savor foods requires a plan, and that plan needs to include an understanding of why changes in your eating patterns are important, tips for making small, gradual changes along with recipes, and suggestions for how to make foods more enjoyable. Whether you're headed to the grocery store, fixing a new recipe, or trying a new type of whole grain, this book will provide you with the tools you need to make Mediterranean eating your way of eating.
As you embark on this journey into healthier eating, think about the excitement new foods can provide and follow the advice of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and shift your food choices to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, dried beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Enjoy! Bon Appétit! Buen Appetito!