It’s the beloved diet that promises all sorts of health benefits. In fact, it often tops the lists of “The Best Diets to Follow,” especially in regards to improving heart health and reducing inflammation. We are, of course, referring to the Mediterranean diet, which involves eating like you live on the coastlines of Italy and Greece. That means you eat bounties of fresh vegetables, lots of olive oil, fine wine, and fresh fish.
Unfortunately, this way of eating doesn’t really encapsulate the entire Mediterranean region. There are 21 countries that touch the Mediterranean Sea. These countries include Algeria, Albania, Herzegovina, France, Croatia, Bosnia, Turkey, Malta, Tunisia, Monaco, Morocco, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Italy, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Spain, Cyprus, and Slovenia. While there is some crossover among these cuisines, the diets of locals differ from country to country. That means that the Mediterranean diet that health experts praise is exclusive, focusing on Greece, Italy, France, and Spain.
Why The Exclusivity?
The reason that the Mediterranean diet receives a lot of praise is because researchers identified several blue zones in Italy and Greece. Blue zones are areas that have the highest number of centenarians (people that live over 100 years old). The foods that these people consume help to decrease the risk of heart disease and all-cause mortality. That’s why health experts began to promote this way of eating. Although other non-European cuisines in the Mediterranean are nutritious, they are not as nutritious as European Mediterranean diets, according to early research.
Focusing On European Cuisines May Be Stigmatizing
No matter where you live, you can embrace the principles of the Mediterranean diet. Eat more plant-based foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and legumes), wild caught fish and lean protein, and unsaturated fats (olive oil). When you only focus on the cuisines of Greece, Italy, France, and Spain, though, you realize that the Mediterranean diet’s food list lacks diversity. Non-European Mediterranean countries have foods that are just as healthy. Excluding them from the list can be stigmatizing, according to registered dietitians. Each country in the Mediterranean region has their own unique foods or cultural preferences. That means that these foods need to be highlighted just as much as the foods that are signature to European countries.
How The Diet Differs From Country To Country
There isn’t one dish that epitomizes the Mediterranean region. The spice-laden dishes from Morocco are not the same as the lemon and caper-inspired dishes of Southern Italy, yet both exhibit myriad health benefits. Even though the cuisines are different, most Mediterranean countries tend to focus on high-quality ingredients and simple preparations. Dishes often involve more seafood than meat and poultry, in addition to olive oil, whole grains, beans, lentils, and fruits and vegetables.
This is even true for the beverages that people consume. For example, people in Turkey drink cup after cup of Turkish Tea, also known as Cay, from morning until night. They drink it at weddings, funerals, work meetings, and more. In Spain and Italy, though, the get up and go drink is espresso. Tunisians tend to drink mint tea. All of these drinks have their own unique health benefits and are popular in the Mediterranean, so excluding one or the other from the Mediterranean diet is silly, to say the least.
Needless to say, you lose a lot of diversity when you look at the Mediterranean diet through a U.S. lens. There is nothing wrong with the foods that are on that Mediterranean diet list, though. In fact, we encourage you to eat a lot of them, especially vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats. Much like America, though, the Mediterranean is a melting pot of cultures that should include all cuisines from that region. Should you decide to subscribe to a Mediterranean diet, make sure to embrace ingredients and dishes from all of the Mediterranean countries. Explore new spices, preparation methods, and unique ingredients to reap the most benefits from your food.