WHERE IS THE MEDITERRANEAN ANYWAY?
The Mediterranean (‘between lands’) Sea is the almost land-locked body of water that sits between southern Europe and the north coast of Africa. It flows into the Atlantic through the narrow Strait of Gibraltar between Spain and Morocco. Historically, it’s always been an important trading area and ‘incubator’ of many early civilisations – the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Byzantines, Moors all lived on its coastline and used its waters to travel. And in more recent times, it’s the beautiful warm spot where much of Europe goes for its holidays!
There are 18 extremely varied countries sitting on the Mediterranean, running clockwise from Spain to Israel to Morocco, so that’s a lot of different cuisines to have boiled down into one! In 2013 UNESCO added the 'Mediterranean cuisine' of the countries of Greece, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Portugal (hmmm – not even technically ‘on the Med’), Croatia and Cyprus to its list of protected ‘cultural treasures’.
WHAT’S SO INTERESTING ABOUT THE ‘MEDITERRANEAN DIET’?
In the 1940s American scientist Ancel Keys became intrigued by the link between what we eat and general health and longevity. Some earlier studies had shown oddly low rates of heart disease on the Greek island of Crete. Keys set out to discover why. It felt like a bit of a paradox – the locals seemed to have not a care in the world about restricting portions; their cuisine seemed to be very high in fat; potatoes and pasta were joyfully consumed; and wine was drunk most dinnertimes. Yet they suffered less heart disease than nations that were already concerned about this stuff, such as the USA. Keys spent 25 years investigating the food, lifestyle and heart-disease rates of middle-aged men from different places in the world. His results were published in the famous Seven Countries Study (featuring the USA, Finland, Netherlands, Former Yugoslavia, Japan, Italy and Greece). In 1975 he and his wife wrote a bestselling book to try to encourage Americans to take note: How to Eat Well and Stay Well the Mediterranean Way.
Keys’ key findings were that this Mediterranean way of eating was based around plant foods (including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and legumes), lots of olive oil, oily fish eaten at least twice a week (usually caught locally), poultry and red meat eaten far less often, cheese and yoghurt also used in moderation, fruit for dessert, and one or two small glasses of red wine with dinner.
This all meant that, although the total fat component of the Mediterranean cuisine was high, it was low in saturated fat and very low in trans fats (those particularly tricky fats that are found in so much processed foods). And it was rich in fibre and antioxidant vitamins from all the plants and nuts. Keys also had a hunch that it wasn’t just about the food: there were health benefits to the physically active lifestyle, and perhaps even the more relaxed attitude to life and eating.
EASY WAYS TO EAT ‘A BIT MORE MEDITERRANEAN’
Get plenty of healthy fats from olive oil, nuts, grains and legumes. Eating nuts and seeds as snacks and adding them to your cooking and salads.
Eating the Med way means eating fish at least twice a week! Oily fish, such as mackerel, herring, sardines, tuna and salmon, are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight inflammation. Try poaching or frying a piece of fish and enjoy with our quinoa superfoods salad or freekeh salad with pumpkin and tahini.
Building your meals around vegetables, legumes and whole grains, rather than meat and poultry. Try our falafel mix with hummus.
Last but not least, they love to eat legumes – chickpeas, lentils, cannellini beans, kidney beans, butter beans. Legumes are very nutritious, versatile and amazingly cheap. Add them to casseroles and soups to bulk up the quantity in a healthy way (try our prawn tagine with chickpeas and lemon; and we even add them to the filling of our sausage rolls!). Use less mince if you’re making bolognese and add a tin of lentils. If you’re making a curry, use less chicken or meat and add a tin of chickpeas. In a stir-fry, use less meat and add some sliced firm tofu. Fry chickpeas until crisp in olive oil and sprinkle over salads or eat as a snack – delicious!
We’ve plenty of dinners on the menu that follow the Mediterranean style of eating… browse the full menu here to be inspired.