Although the 21 countries that border the Mediterranean each have their own unique culinary customs, they have a common foundation. Dishes are typically simple, and inspired by seasonal ingredients. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains take centre stage, while fish is the primary source of protein and olive oil replaces the saturated fats otherwise used in Western cooking. Poultry, eggs and dairy are consumed in moderation, while red meat and sugar are infrequent treats.
This way of eating has become known as the Mediterranean diet, and for the past five years it has won first place in U.S. News’ expert-approved ranking of the world’s healthiest cuisines. Multiple studies have linked the diet to a reduced risk of chronic diseases and ailments including diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, cancer, dementia and memory loss. And in 2020, research published in the journal Gut showed that elderly people who transitioned to a Mediterranean diet showed improved brain function and slowed signs of frailty after just one year.
Mediterranean dining is more than a list of ingredients. It’s also a way of life that has a lot in common with the slow food movement. Namely, it encourages people to eat consciously for the sheer enjoyment of it, over extended meals with family and friends. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why the Mediterranean diet is also associated with reduced levels of depression, stress and anxiety – all conditions that can seriously affect our health and longevity.