Mediterranean Diet – The Healthiest on the Planet?

Many years ago I was invited to spend some time in Italy.  After a tiring but adventurous morning of walking and exploring the island of Capri, my friend and I were hungry and ready for a good lunch.  But we didn’t want to eat at a typical tourist restaurant.We wanted an authentic meal and experience.After what seemed like an hour of searching, we stumbled upon a restaurant nestled on the edge of the island overlooking the Mediterranean — the perfect place!   We sat outdoors on the veranda shaded by the trees, grape vines, and had a light breeze from the water.It felt like we could literally reach out and touch the sea.We had a lunch of grilled peppers, melon and prosciutto, fresh pasta, fish, crusty bread, and in true Mediterranean fashion — had a carafe of the house red wine.  We had 2 hours of leisurely eating, drinking, relaxing and the occasional chat with the restaurant owners.mediterranean-diet-healthiest-planetThat day, I experienced what the Mediterranean diet & lifestyle is all about:  plenty of exercise, delicious food in reasonable portions, eating at a relaxed pace, and taking pleasure in the meal.  I felt wonderful!Earlier this week I attended the 15th Annual Mediterranean Diet Conference, where I heard about the latest and up-to-date scientific evidence about the Mediterranean diet from some of the world’s most renown experts in nutrition.I heard all the latest statistics from research showing that the Mediterranean Diet is good for you.I heard why we should be eating certain foods, and not others.But at the conference I was surrounded mostly by nutritionists and dietitians.  Nothing against them and they do good work — but they have been taught to base their knowledge solely on science.  They tell people how many fat grams, carbohydrates, ounces of meat, sugar, diary, etc. that everyone needs.  The basically follow the USDA Pyramid and the concept that everyone should follow the same “rules.”I’m not a proponent of diets, and don’t believe we all should be eating the same foods to say healthy and slim.I also don’t believe we should always be looking at science to tell us what to eat.  I mean, it was the scientists in the 80’s and 90’s who told us to eat a low-fat diet, which we now know DO NOT WORK.With all that said — the Mediterranean diet is not really a “diet” in the true sense, where one has to follow a very strict regimen.  The traditional diets of the Mediterranean vary from country to country, as the term “Mediterranean” refers to regions in 16 countries, including Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia and Israel, and eight other countries.The main foods of the Mediterranean diet ARE very healthy, and incorporating some of them into your meals can help you eat better and lose weight.At the conference, the proponents of the Mediterranean diet did include a NEW component:   the social aspect.Eating with others and the respect for time at the table.This is something that years ago changed that way I looked at food and helped me live a healthier life.But at the conference, these scientists, nutritionists and dietitians only touched on that subject.  It was simply a very small side-bar.  Everything they talked about was based on the FOOD and SCIENCE, and not our relationship to food, how we view it, the role culture has in it, food preferences, and our conflict between eating for health and eating for pleasure.From my personal experience living in France, traveling and studying in Italy, in addition to my travels to other parts of the Mediterranean — eating for pleasure  was KEY.We need to have an appreciation & love of genuine food and the enjoyment of food with others.  The Mediterraneans (and other cultures) have understood this concept for hundreds of years.It’s not just the food that makes them healthy…It’s also their approach to food, their relationship to it, their respect for it, and the belief ALL FOOD is good for you if eaten in moderation.  They do not stress out at every meal worrying about calories, fat grams, and carbohydrates.  They look at food as something positive — NOT as something that can make them fat or thin.  They take part in what I call "positive eating."THAT’S what I experienced in the Mediterranean.  Not counting, weighing, and agonizing over what I was eating.  I learned how to eat without guilt, while having a healthy approach to – and relationship with – food.THAT’S A KEY ISSUE as to why the Mediterranean people are healthy & slim.It’s the food they eat AND their relationship to it.So for your next meal, in addition to incorporating & eating some of the healthy foods of the Mediterranean — also take a positive approach and enjoy the food (and wine) with others.  Look at it as something you enjoy and not something you agonize over.You just might get a glimpse into the same wonderful feeling I had eating lunch that day in Capri.Okay, you won’t have the Mediterranean Sea in front of you…but you can still find enjoyment, feel a connection with others, and have a better relationship with food.  The more you do this, the more you’ll start to feel better and lose some weight in the process.That’s what the Mediterraneans understand — it’s Mediterranean living — and not just a Mediterranean diet, that makes them healthy and slim.What do YOU think?  Do you agree or disagree?What have you experienced in your travels as to why people in the Mediterranean (or other cultures) are healthy and slim?

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