The Mediterranean diet is a culinary tapestry woven from the dietary traditions of Greece, Spain, and southern Italy—regions that embrace the breathtaking Mediterranean Sea. Its genesis can be traced back to 1945 when American Dr. Ancel Keys arrived in Greece. Driven by curiosity, he embarked on a journey that unveiled the secrets of this remarkable diet. What he discovered was astonishing: the people of Greece and Spain enjoyed longer life expectancies and were relatively free from major health issues.
At its heart, the Mediterranean diet is an ode to nature, emphasizing foods from plant sources that are minimally processed, locally grown, and in sync with the seasons. Animal-based foods play a secondary role in this culinary symphony.
The cornerstone of this diet includes an abundance of fresh fruits, vegetables, sea-fresh fish, aromatic herbs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and the liberal use of non-refined olive oil, accounting for 25% to 35% of the fat consumed. It champions a low intake of saturated fats, a moderate consumption of cheese and yogurt, and sweet treats are found in the form of honey and fresh fruits. The diet features ample servings of fresh fish and non-refined cereals.
In the Mediterranean diet, vegetables take center stage, with a daily intake of at least one pound per person, while red meat plays a supporting role and is consumed sparingly. Regular physical activity is a key companion to this diet, and if wine is your choice of beverage, moderation is key—just one glass for women and up to two glasses for men, enjoyed daily with meals.
The diet offers a tantalizing array of fruits, including grapes, raisins, olives, avocados, strawberries, raspberries, currants, blueberries, black olives, oranges, apples, pears, figs, pomegranates, dates, passion fruits, cherries, apricots, grapefruits, peaches, prunes, quinces, bergamots, and plums.
As for vegetables, the Mediterranean region boasts an impressive selection, including spinach, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, white peaches, bell peppers, carrots, beetroots, tomatoes, onions, shallots, scallions, green onions, celery, eggplants, capers, cucumbers, lemons, zucchinis, white and red cabbage, mushrooms, grapevine leaves, artichokes, potatoes, sweet corn, and gherkins.
Grains hold a significant place in the diet, featuring pasta, couscous, rice, polenta, and bulgur. Legumes such as carob, peas, beans, lima beans, chickpeas, and lentils provide a wholesome source of nutrition.
The Mediterranean culinary experience is elevated by an exquisite blend of herbs and spices, including anise, basil, bay leaves, borage, peppercorns, garlic, chilies, chamomile, chervil, chives, dill, fennel, lavender, marjoram, mint, nutmeg, oregano, parsley, sesame seeds, rosemary, sage, savory, sorrel, tarragon, thyme, vanilla, mahaleb, red saffron, masticha, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, and caraway.
Cheese enthusiasts can indulge in a delightful selection crafted primarily from sheep and goat’s milk, including bocconcini, edam, feta, halloumi, kasseri, kefalograviera, kefalotyri, roquefort cheese, mozzarella, mitzithra, manouri, manchego, pecorino toscano, mascarpone, parmesan, and pecorino. Additionally, anthotyro, xynotyri, ladotyri, anevato, and batzos contribute to the rich cheese landscape.
For those seeking the crunch of nuts, the Mediterranean diet offers a delightful array of almonds, fennel, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, pistachios, peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, and chestnuts.
The Mediterranean coastline provides an abundance of fish, including herring, salmon, trout, tuna, anchovies, sardines, mackerels, cod, and carp. Seafood lovers can savor octopus, clams, mussels, and squids. This diverse menu, consumed daily, has been hailed for its heart-healthy attributes, making the Mediterranean diet a culinary journey well worth undertaking.