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Nutrition

  The Mediterranean Diet

Growing up in Krokees, southern Greece, olive oil was a staple ingredient in the traditional Mediterranean diet. I never knew what I was eating was called the “Mediterranean diet.” I don’t think anyone else did either!  It was a diet composed of local produced ingredients and recipes passed on from mother to daughter, one generation after another.

What is distinctive about the Mediterranean diet is the abundant use of fruit and vegetables, legumes, fish, cheese yogurt, whole grains for bread and cereals, nuts and red wine. Meat was usually chicken, rabbit, goat and lamb/mutton instead of beef.  There is a simple reason for this: pasturing cattle in a lot of regions was impractical because of the arid-like conditions for most of the year, poor terrain and thus sparse vegetation to raise large animals. Goats and sheep can forage anywhere, cattle cannot.  As for grapes, they can grow and flourish in the harshest of environments. 

The Mediterranean diet can sometimes be called the peasant’s diet because it was attributed to the poor people who worked the land eking out a meagre subsistence. Only the affluent could afford rich foods, finer cuts of meat, refined white bread, cream, butter and sugar. No wonder gout was the affliction of the rich.

Although not by choice, one very important aspect of the Mediterranean diet is variety in the consumption of food brought on by the seasons. You ate what was in-season. Food was lovingly prepared from scratch each day. Yes, each and every day because there was no refrigeration.  (Personally speaking, we didn’t have electricity in our home in Greece until 1957 and that was just for light, nothing else.)  Processed or ready-made food did not exist. My introduction to soft drinks, potato chips and chocolate was when we immigrated to Canada in 1960.  Mothers and daughters were skilled artisans in knowing what was available and when, how to mix and match ingredients to create delicious dishes.  This is a lifetime skill achieved through daily practice, through all the seasons, year-round.

Olive oil and let’s not forget olives were always present at the table in our house. Olive oil was the only vegetable oil I knew until we arrived in Canada. Olive oil was used in practically every dish either added in the cooking or poured on raw when serving the food at the table.  A favourite snack of mine was a slice of toasted home-made bread rubbed with tomato paste, drizzled with raw olive oil and a pinch of natural sea salt.

Alas, the way of the western diet and the convenience of prepared food and empty-calorie snacks and sugar drinks have made their way to the most remote villages in the Mediterranean. Traditional slow-food cuisine is slowly pushed aside by fast food. There are strong advocates in Europe who try to preserve the Mediterranean diet and other local/regional cuisine.  If you still want to experience authentic local cuisine, head for the small towns and villages. The large cities are the same no matter where you travel.

The Mediterranean diet is not something that is isolated to that part of the world. You don’t have to live in the Mediterranean to enjoy their diet.  We have an unbelievable variety and choice of fresh foods available to us at our doorstep at local farmers’ markets, delis, natural food stores and green grocers. The challenge is in taking back the kitchen, experimenting and trying different recipes, making the preparation of meals a focal point and not simply an afterthought.  Stick to the basics, don’t let the cooking process overwhelm you, keep it simple. Try one or two of the recipes posted on this website and grow from there. Bon appétit!

DISCLAIMER: The following opinions and information are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical prevention, diagnosis, or treatment.  Consult your health care provider for advice on what is safe and effective for your unique health.