You don't have to fly away to bluer skies to enjoy all the benefits of the Mediterranean lifestyle. So even if you're shoveling snow right now, you can still get the drift (ha-ha) of how happy and healthy the Mediterranean way of life can be.
photo credit Stock Photo Secret What is the Mediterranean Lifestyle? Twenty-three countries border this beautiful sea, so there isn't a "set" Mediterranean diet. But there are shared habits we can all adopt:
Focus on plant-based foods, especially vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and olive oil. But this doesn't mean you can't have dairy, eggs, fish, poultry, or occasional red meat (and even a little dessert). Just remember to keep your food real and whole, and eat more healthy stuff!
Forget about "super-sizing" and appreciate quality over quantity. Stop when you're feeling full, and don't wait until you can't take another bite!
Take joy in natural movement. Whether it's walking, gardening, yoga, or any other activity that gets you moving. (It doesn't have to be sweating at the gym!)
Get enough sleep and avoid stress as much as possible.
Enjoy your friends and family, have interests, and engage in social activities.
Enjoy your food! Don't eat in the car or on the run. Instead, take your time to savor the flavors of the food and the conversation of your companions.
The Mediterranean diet isn't something to be endured for a short period. It's about changing your eating habits, loving how and what you eat, and never wanting to go back to your old ways!
The Blue Mediterranean Zones Like the Mediterranean Diet, the Blue Zones are a variety of diets shown to be the healthiest long-term. Dan Buettner (a National Geographic explorer) coined the term "blue zones' when he and other researchers went on a mission to discover the secrets of the longest living people. (Who enjoyed old age, primarily free of sicknesses like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.) Two blue zones are Sardinia, Italy, and Ikaria, Greece. I believe that when the Mediterranean and a blue zone jibe, you've found the perfect diet! Sardinia The island of Sardinia was the first region to be declared a blue zone. (Due to the unusually high number of people living to be over a hundred.) Unlike most of the world, where women outlive men, the ratio in Sardinia is about one to one.
So what are these healthy centenarians eating? Along with the usual Mediterranean fare, they enjoy a lot of bread and cheese. Yes, cheese! (And not the low-fat kind.) The dairy in Sardinia comes from grass-fed goats and contains high amounts of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Look for organic cow's milk and cheese if you love cheese (but not necessarily the "goaty" kind). Research shows that organic milk contains significantly more omega-3 fatty acids than regular milk, just like the high levels of fatty acids in the Sardinian cheese. I have to confess, I'm crazy about bread, and I'll put anything in a sandwich! You can enjoy the goodness of whole grains even if you're avoiding gluten. Just choose naturally gluten-free ones (like oats, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, and corn). Unless you have a food sensitivity to wheat or other grains, it's reassuring to know that whole grains have been a healthy food staple for centuries. Ikaria Okay, this has to be my absolute favorite diet location! Because just like me, Ikarians love their potatoes! A delicious and healthy way to eat your spuds is to boil or bake them and top them with lots of pepper and a generous drizzle of olive oil. (You can also roast potatoes with olive oil and herbs of your choice in a 425-degree oven for about 40 minutes.) However you eat them, don't resort to dollops of butter, sour cream, and bacon! Nothing is off-limits with the Mediterranean diet, but again, choose the healthiest option most of the time. Of course, the Ikarians eat more than just potatoes. Other popular foods include leafy greens (specifically a wild green called xorta), olive oil, black-eyed peas, Mediterranean herbs, lemons, chickpeas, Greek coffee, and honey. (No yucky artificial sweetener for these wise people!) And like many Mediterranean countries, wine (from locally grown grapes) is also enjoyed. So if you like to drink, have a leisurely glass with your evening meal. But if you're not already a drinker, don't feel obligated to start now!
Best Diet Overall For the fifth year in a row, the Mediterranean Diet has been crowned the best diet overall in 2022 by US News and World Reports. Why is this a trusted source? Well, primarily because it's a diverse panel of experts (with impressive credentials) that aren't trying to sell you anything! You can read the rankings for all 40 diets here. The results may surprise you! The Mediterranean Takeaway The loveliness of the Mediterranean way is that there are no hard and fast rules. Each region feasts on locally grown food with pleasure and mindfulness. This is in stark contrast to the aptly named SAD (Standard American Diet), loaded with unhealthy overly-processed sugary foods — often eaten in haste! The first step to healthy eating is to ditch junk food, artificial sweeteners, and fake fats. Instead, sweeten with honey, maple syrup, or dates. And drizzle your food with healthy fats like olive or avocado oil. Most Mediterranean recipes are simple, and the ingredients are inexpensive. However, I would recommend splurging on a couple of items; extra virgin (cold pressed) olive oil and organic dairy. And remember, choose what appeals to your taste buds and makes you feel healthy. I love bread, cheese, and potatoes, but you don't have to like them too for us to get along! The Mediterranean way is primarily a plant-based, whole food diet. Start here, add a little of what you fancy on top — and make it yummy! Further Reading Pen Medicine ~ A Diet With No Restrictions: The Mediterranean Diet True Health Initiative ~ Is the Mediterranean diet the best choice for health? NPR ~ Eating to break 100: Longevity Det Tips From The Blue Zones NPR ~ Fresh Research Finds Organic Milk Packs In Omega-3s Greek City Times ~ How an Ikarian diet can help you live to 100
WebMD ~ The Whole Truth About Whole Grains
US News and World Reports ~ Best Diets Overall
NIH ~ Mediterranean diet and life expectancy; beyond olive oil, fruits, and vegetables
Plos One ~ Organic Production Enhances Milk Nutritional Quality by Shifting Fatty Acid Composition: A United States—Wide, 18 Month Study
The BMJ ~ Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies