The Mediterranean Diet has been heralded as a very healthy one for many years but the Mediterranean coastline covers many different Countries, Cultures and the diet varies from country to country. Much has been written about about it and much has been researched so I am going to just write about the diet of Southern Spain firstly because I lived there for a few years and secondly because I love and thrive on the food in Spain!
In researching this article I read a lot of older comments that are inaccurate. Maybe because it was generally touted that the Mediterranean diet was healthier than other European Countries or the USA and that there was less heart disease, people automatically assumed that the diet was low fat. Throughout the last 50 years this is what we have been told was necessary for a healthy cardiovascular system – low total fat, low saturated fat and low dietary cholesterol but the Spanish Diet is none of these! Lots of food is fried, lots of fatty cuts of meat and sausages are eaten, plenty of cheese and dairy are consumed and yet Cardiovascular disease is 9% lower, Cancer 6% lower and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease 13% lower in a study reported on PubMed in 2008. More recent studies have confirmed that the Mediterranean Diet is much better at protecting us from chronic disease including this one from Medical News Today in 2014. Some studies claim that meat is eaten less often but this is also not true and in the winter many of the dishes are very hearty stews with Goat, Pork, bacon, lamb, Rabbit, Venison or beef and throughout the year Chorizo and Morcilla sausages are used a lot in dishes. There are also some very good cheeses – my favourite being a sheep’s cheese called Flor de Esgueva.
So what makes this diet so Healthy?
- An abundance of Olive Oil and Olives in cooking and salads has been mentioned as one of the most beneficial due to the Oleic Acid they contain.
- Avocados are widely eaten
- Almonds (even used ground up to thicken sauces), Hazelnuts and Walnuts
- Seeds like Pumpkin, sesame and sunflower often sprinkled on salads
So most of the healthy fats that are now talked about by Nutritionists and Doctors but all the saturated ones are eaten as well, so are plenty of eggs but these are nearly all eaten as natural as possible with processed foods being obvious by their absence. Not much margarine is used, occasionally butter but this doesn’t survive well in a hot climate and people are much more likely to pour olive oil onto their bread.
FISH and SHELLFISH
- Much more fish and shell fish is eaten in Spain with a lot more variety than seen away from the Mediterranean .
Prawns, Clams, squid, muscles all beautifully fresh and these, of course often make up the wonderful dish of Paella -the one in the main picture was not in a restaurant but cooked by my Brother – thanks Ian! Many of the fish dishes will be fried or grilled with garlic and olive oil.
Just take a look at the proportions in this meal. The Vegetables and fish are the greatest proportion and the chips are the smallest – unlike the balance in the normal Fish and Chip meal in the UK. Also even if fried the fish usually has a minimal amount of batter.
- With meat it is more common to find meat cooked on the bone and so bone broth is incorporated into the meal.
- Cartons of bone broth from chicken and beef (& fish as well) are readily available in the Supermarkets
- The whole animal is used and lots of cuts are traditionally cured and preserved with salt or made into sausages
- Many herbs are used like coriander, rosemary, Oregano, Marjoram and in many dishes spices like smoked Paprika, Cinnamon, chilli and some Moroccan spices like Turmeric, Cumin, ginger and Ras el hanout – my favourite! Dried or preserved chillies, peppers or lemons also make great additions.
VEGETABLES, FRUIT AND SALADS
- The bonus in the Mediterranean, or anywhere with a Mediterranean climate, is always the freshness, abundance and variety of seasonal fruit and vegetables and the fact that they are so much cheaper when they have been grown in the country and not had to be stored or transported for days/weeks. A fresh lemon in Spain bears little resemblance to the ones we buy here for about 35p each and the amount of juice in one has to bee seen to be believed!
- Salads are normal to start a meal with even in winter and they are served in so many different ways and with different ingredients. The best tomatoes, lettuce, Asparagus, grated carrot, beetroot, cucumber, sweetcorn, rocket, and sometimes oranges and other fruits.
This one was amazing with preserved ham, fresh figs a little Olive oil dressing and a sprinkling of sunflower seeds.
Of course, a lovely glass of red wine and sitting outside in the sunshine or on a warm evening does wonders for calming the stresses of the day.
So for years this kind of diet has been known to be much healthier for us. If you look around you do not see the overweight children or young people that you do in the UK or USA. The older population are often overweight and enjoy a more sedentary life style – often with a coffee and Brandy (even in the morning!) but they have far less chronic disease and heart disease than we do. Therefore when I advocate eating a CLEAN and VARIED diet with less carbohydrates and very little processed food this is what I am aiming at – REAL FOOD sourced locally where possible, as fresh as possible and cooked to add nutrition and make the most of the ingredients.
It really is worth the effort and it should be a priority in life.
Viva la Vida! Embrace Life!