Serious questions arise in my head: What is exactly the so called mediterranean diet? Can we even state THERE IS truly a mediterranean diet? If so, do people in the mediterranean area still follow this approach or was it lost somewhere in the not-so-remote past?
Welcome to the very first article of Mediterranean Men. As an opening topic it is cornerstone to stablish what mediterranean diet really means. This australian post from Cathy Johnson drives us in the right direction and includes a “10 commandments” section which is actually right. However we are digging further into it.
Mediterranean diet in the past
There was never a clear and fixed “mediterranean diet”, since this is in fact a modern term. However THERE IS a set of foodstuff and rules that were present generally all over the mediterranean basin.
- Olive oil, the quintessential and most iconic ingredient, the green gold.
- Lots of seafood (like mussels and clams).
- Whole, wild genotype grain, bread. I mean not today’s bread.
- Plenty of vegetables (not the same as plant based and obviously not vegan). I want to highlight some particular ones as garlic, onion, carrots and cabbage. After discovery of America, the Spanish Conquistaderes brought some important vegetables like potatoes, tomatoes and peppers to Europe which soon became basic ingredients of mediterranean dishes.
- Raw, organic eggs
- Raw, organic honey (in season)
- Lots of fish and meat when available, none when not. In those cases, legumes were used as the protein source (also known as “poor man’s meat”).
- All kinds of nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and pistachios. Probably all year long as they are easily stored and conserved.
- Fermented foods, such as red wine and yogourt.
- Seasonal fruits including the awesome pomegranate and the blackberry and obviously the grapes.
- Spices, for example cinnamon was super valued in ancient times around the Mediterranean, so were rosemary and thyme.
Fasting was a key rule of ancient mediterraneans. As a general approach, they ate the vast majority of their calories in the night, after they were done with their hard work. Occasionally they used to take small pieces of fruit or nuts during the day, but never right after waking up.
During the zenith period of Grecian and Roman civilization monogamy was not as firmly established as the rule that a health-loving man should content himself with one meal a day, and never eat till he had leisure to digest, i.e., not till the day’s work was wholly done.
For more than a thousand years the one meal plan was the established rule among the civilized nations inhabiting the coast-lands of the Mediterranean.
The evening repast–call it supper or dinner–was a kind of domestic festival, the reward of the day’s toil, an enjoyment which rich and poor refrained from marring by premature gratifications of their appetites.
That’s a quote from the book “The Hygienic System: Orthotrophy” from Herbert M Shelton. Here is another interesting hint:
At the period of their greatest power, the Greeks and Romans ate only one meal a day.
“For more than a thousand years the one-meal system was the rule in two countries that could raise armies of men every one of whom would have made his fortune as a modern athlete–men who marched for days under a load of iron (besides clothes and provisions) that would stagger a modern porter.”
“The Romans of the Republican age broke their fast with a biscuit and a fig or two, and took their principle meal in the cool of the evening.”
Among the many things that have been offered as an explanation for their physical, mental and moral decline has been their sensuous indulgence in food which came with power and riches.
Mediterranean diet today
With today’s power and riches, our eating patterns have changed all along. As a sequel weakness has arrived.
Obesity, poor fitness level, diabetes, and all kind of modern diseases spread everywhere. So how does a 2017 mediterranean guy feed himself?
- 5 meals a day, starting the day with a sugary and/or heavy carb breakfast
- Some processed food and sugary drinks to have when out of home (you cannot cook and OMG you cannot survive if not eating after 3 hours)
- A big meal at 2-3pm based on meat, legumes, rice or pasta and sometimes vegetables. Maybe the most acceptable tradition still seen.
- A sandwich or cereals with milk during the afternoon: the merienda.
- Random “eatable” stuff for dinner, which may be healthy or not depending on…. hmmmm the luck.
Obviously this is a general view, each individual is eating in a completely different way. I tried to reflect what I see in my family, friends, work colleagues and the people around the place. There are also lots of guys having a bodybuilder’s classic diet based on oats, tuna, chicken and rice, people following a paleo diet or going ketogenic/IF. Welcome to the diversity of today. What I mean is classic mediterranean guidelines are lost for the most part, except maybe when talking about our elders. My grandparents eat a lot healthier than most young people and I think this applies to every family around.
Mixing ancient wisdom with today’s advantages
‘Natural’ does not necessarily mean better, as people tend to think. After all, most artificial stuff is meant to improve human’s life, and it does. Sometimes these changes come with undesirable side effects and that’s where the “come back to natural” philosophy arises. But oh well it doesn’t mean every aspect of nature is wonder and every human-made thing is evil. We live longer than ever, isn’t it?
As an additional argument: many of the mediterranean staples aren’t even native from the area. Food is probably the first item that followed a globalization process. After the humans themselves obviously :) How one would say that using garlic, which originated in Asia, is bad because it is not native from the Mediterranean? Who cares?
Let’s try to mix ancient and modernity in order to succeed:
This is a chart I used for my other blog ‘Daniscience’ which I first saw when watching this youtube video about longevity from Dan Buettner. It represents a set of 9 rules that are present in the four ‘blue zones’ around the Earth, these are the zones in where people live longer in average and/or more individuals become centenarians proportionally. In my opinion it is a great chart and matches perfectly the so called mediterranean diet.
Now what I wanted to mean is, don’t limit yourself to fixed foodstuff or recipes you find googling for “mediterranean diet”. There are lots of superfoods and great options like coconut oil which was never part of the mediterranean cultivars and is almost essential for me when I am on my ketogenic periods. I also take lots of supplements like bitter melon extract (since there is virtually no bitter melon available in my country) or some Ayurveda plant extracts like ashwagandha and rhodiola which aren’t either cultivated in south Europe. Not to talk of the organic turmeric (the “next” super spice for longevity) that I purchase in a local vegan store. Why disregard these magnificent foods only because “they are not mediterranean”?
My choice (you can name it Mediterranean Diet 2.0 if you wish)
- 2 meals a day and intermittent fasting, similar to the popular Warrior Diet.
- Extra virgin olive oil as your main vegetable oil. Pick the ‘Picual’ variety for maximum oleic acid, antioxidants and phenolic content.
- Organic animal foods, at least eggs and butter which are reasonably affordable.
- Lots of nuts, a master source of energy and nutrients. Pistachios and almonds are my favorite for both flavor, fatty acid profiles and properties.
- Legumes, specially white and pinto beans, incredible form of resistant starch specially if you cook them and store in the fridge 24h prior to serving.
- Cut the bread and/or other flours. This is the main factor I would remove from the ancient mediterranean diet. Current’s wheat is heavily modded and creates serious addiction, inflammation and obesity problems specially to inactive people. When talking of people who work out a lot I would pick boiled potatoes as my main source of carbohydrates (in case you do want to follow a high-carb diet, that’s it).
- Eat fruit but don’t abuse it as some convert fruit into their ‘oh-well-it-is-healthy’ sugar festivals. Pick small fruits like berries, pomegranate, apricots, small-wild types of pears and apples.
- Lots of water alone and a wide range of herbal teas mainly black, red or green tea. A variety for every taste. I also thrive on more exotic infusions like rosehip hibiscus or coconut vanilla (coconut, rooibos, carob, chicory and barley)
- Red wine is OK in moderation, like half a glass every day and skipping it one day a week if you wish. I know some people are strongly against any kind of alcohol, but this is a special drink. It comes from the fermentation of dark, purple grapes. It brings resveratrol, a special compound linked to longevity. It is strong in tannins which adsorb excess iron and offer many health benefits. It is sour, and as any sour food, it regulates your appetite. Following the ‘The dose makes the poison’ reasoning, a small amount of red wine won’t kill you nor exterminate your neurons.
Every diet out there is based on 2 simple steps:
- Do not eat garbage (which flush your body with several toxics and/or an insulin overload)
- Do eat healthy stuff instead (including antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and fermented foods, source of friendly gut bacteria)
I haven’t placed these 2 steps randomly, it is really more important not to eat hazardous “food” before looking for magical superfoods.
Mediterranean diet as we described it is just a compendium of healthy habits when it comes to nutrition. You can mod it here and there to fit your lifestyle and achieve your goals.
“Eat your garlic, sir”
Read more (Spanish)
Didn’t know? I am from Spain. To make this post I relied on a recent article from Juan Revenga, a popular nutritionist in my country. You can read his full article here:
That’s it! Hope you enjoyed the read, maybe you would consider subscribing? More quality articles are coming every week :) Yours sincerely,