Embracing the Mediterranean Diet Lifestyle

by Laura on September 27, 2011

in Food
















One day in Piedmont I enjoyed a feast for my senses.

The Ferrera family had invited our group to join them for lunch . . . a four hour lunch that ended with us being invited to the grandparent’s 50th anniversary party (which, unfortunately, the 20 of us had to decline on attending.) What made the lunch even more special was that everything we were served came from the family’s farm.

We started with a Frito Misto de Piemontese, including salciccia, liver, tomato stuffed peppers, and sweet semolina that was fried. We indulged in porcini crepes, pasta with mushrooms, vitello tonnato (chilled veal in a tuna sauce), tongue with salsa verde, beef and potatoes. We sunk our teeth into a three-day-old Robiola cheese, then enjoyed a flan custard and nut torte for dessert.

It was a lot of food, but it wasn’t enough. We wanted more. More of the food. More of the experience. More of the lifestyle. And, they could sense it.

So, we got a bit more.

It was then that Grandpa requested his homemade Grappa and Absinthe be brought to the table. As the jugs arrived, everyone sat in anticipation. Me, I sat in disappointment. (Five months pregnant with the twins, left me unable to partake in this part of the experience). Proud of his creation and that he could share it with others, Grandpa motioned for our glasses to be filled. We quickly settled in for more of our sensory-filled afternoon.

When it was finally time to head back up the hill to our cars, someone in the group summed up the experience “If we didn’t have to leave, we’d still be there.”

My heart is still there.

Most of us have a similar experience – the food, the ambiance, the lifestyle – all finding a special place in our hearts. And for a short time after returning home, we try to recreate that experience at home – sharing it with our friends as we recount every moment of our experience with them.

But all too soon, the desire to replicate meals experienced on our Mediterranean vacations fades away, and our mealtime is overshadowed by our bustling day-to-day activities. We trade the Parmigiano-Reggiano, prosciutto and Prosecco afternoon snack with packaged snack bars, bags of chips and a 32-ounce soda. We trade a leisurely afternoon meal enjoying the outdoors for a drive-thru burger consumed in the car. We trade time together around the table with eating alone in the car, or on the run. We trade a meal where we are in touch with the food and the place where it comes from, to one where we barely even arouse our senses to enjoy it.

We forget how our senses are essential to use during mealtime. We’ve trained our palates to overwhelmingly desire salty flavors – pushing aside the sweet, sour, bitter and umami sensations that make a meal dance on our tongues. We rarely stop to smell our meals, and enjoy the intermingling of aromas before we scoop it into our mouths. We listen to our iPod, television and computer, instead of the person next to us or across the table. We quickly gobble down meals in between tasks, without slowing down to enjoy the mouthfeel of a crispy apple, the creamy smoothness of a homemade ice cream, or snappy sharpness of dark chocolate. We keep our eyes on the road or the television, rather than engaging in the colors and variety of the foods we eat.


ugh I believe any meal should be a meal of the senses, it is the Mediterranean Diet that seems to captivate my senses, and transport me to that idyllic afternoon in Piedmont.

The Mediterranean Diet doesn’t represent one eating pattern, or encompass a single criteria, but rather it is a lifestyle that emphasizes consuming vegetables, fruits and nuts, olive oils and grains, It encourages eating a small amount of meat along with a smattering of full-fat milk products. It has a high mono- unsaturated to saturated fatty acid intake ratio and often includes wine with meals. It encourages eating slowly, while adding physical exercise to the day.

Numerous studies have examined this eating lifestyle, and concluded that those who embrace it, have a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, as well as a reduced risk of many other chronic diseases. In fact, the US News and World Report names the Mediterranean Diet the second best diet.

But, I would say that the Mediterranean Diet is more of a lifestyle than a diet. As described on the Oldways website, the Mediterranean Diet “is a lifestyle – including foods, activities, meals with friends and family, and wine in moderation with meals.”

I agree, isn’t a ‘diet’ in a traditional sense, but rather it is a lifestyle. And, Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways recently described the difference between the Mediterranean Diet and other diets, “Most Americans think of a diet as a way to lose weight, rather than a lifestyle.   Interestingly enough, a healthy lifestyle — not a diet — is the way to manage both weight and health over the long run.”

And, if you think about it, a Mediterranean lifestyle isn’t all that bad.

But, for all its studies claiming it is good for your health, why do we (Americans) return to our old habits and opt for fast, processed food on the run?

Baer-Sinnott suggests, it boils down to priorities andperception.

“Soccer games, cello lessons, skating lessons, etc. seem to be higher priorities than family meals,” she explains. “Kids go from one activity to another, and in order to fit everything in, children end up with another brown bag or drive through meal as the alternative at the end of a long day.”  Sara admits that she may be generalizing, but that she believes that “People who say they want to have family meals but don’t, are just not making them a priority.” She adds, “Aside from the family together time, isn’t providing good, healthy meals for your children a really important priority?”

As for the other “P” – Perception – Baer-Sinnott feels that there is an incorrect perception that the Mediterranean Diet is expensive. “The Med Diet doesn’t have to be expensive.”  She offers up the idea of a very simple pasta meal – “Pasta with vegetables or tomatoes (canned in the winter), a small amount of olive oil and a salad — and divide the cost among four people.  We are talking under $2!”

Despite my request to get into the kitchen on that memorable day in Piedmont, I was not allowed to help. I wanted to learn. I wanted to touch. I wanted to re-create.

Nearly five years later, I still find myself trying to capture a bit of that lifestyle with every meal I prepare. Yes, maybe not consciously, but something from that day emerges with every meal I prepare – even if it is simply sitting down with the family and discussing the day’s events.


Incorporating the Four Pillars of Family Eats (Plus Two from Oldways) as a Way to Live a Mediterranean Diet Lifestyle

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1. Planning: Despite what consumer may think, a Mediterranean meal does not take a lot of time to make. Just like any meal, it requires a bit of planning. So, scour your cookbooks for your favorite Mediterranean-inspired, meals.Try The Oldways Table: Essays and recipes from the Culinary Think Tank.


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2. Purchasing: Choose less meats and more grains; Buy less packaged foods and more vegetables and fruit; Replace the unhealthy fats in your diet with more healthful choices including olive oil (in moderation).

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3. Preparing: Build your arsenal of Mediterranean meals – many are simple and effortless. Find a few easy favorites that you can turn to even when you are pressed for time.

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4. Partaking: Make time around the table essential – even if it is for one meal a week. Get together with friends and gather around the table for a weekend afternoon, evening, or snacktime.

5. Perception – Cost of eating a Mediterranean diet does not have to be much – It simply requires a reprogramming of the way you shop. The perception that the cost of eating a healthy diet is much more than that of an unhealthy diet is being disproven. In his recent article in The New York Times, “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper,” Mark Bittman helps dispel that belief.

6. Priorities – Make Mealtime a Priority. Make planning, purchasing, preparing and partaking with family a priority. Make it a priority to sit down and enjoy your food, and make it a priority to engage your senses with every meal. And what better way to do so than to evoke the memories of your favorite Mediterranean adventures with every meal.

Make the Mediterranean Diet a priority.

For more great information on the Mediterranean Diet, including the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, visit Oldways, or sign up to receive the Mediterranean Food AllianceFresh Friday’s newsletter, which offers up delicious tips and recipes.

For more recipes, read our recent Food article Snacking the Mediterranean Diet Way.

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