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January 2007

What is the Mediterranean diet?

Author: Chef George Krumov


What is the Mediterranean diet? Mediterranean diet is actually not a diet. It isn't a new hype or a marketing name, either. Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle, a way of life based on eating the traditional food of the countries from the Mediterranean region.

When the term "Mediterranean diet" is mentioned, it brings an association of healthy food, the same way as "Western diet" brings to your mind the image of fast food, steaks, take-out pizza and processed food.

The main characteristics of the Mediterranean diet are fresh fruits, extra virgin olive oil, fresh fish, red wine, lots of vegetables, yogurt, nuts and the use of a large variety of fresh herbs. I would add to that the consumption of less red meats, a lot less processed ingredients and the consumption of less liquor in favor of wines. Another factor of the health benefits of Mediterranean diet is probably the fact that most Mediterranean countries don't allow genetically-modified crops on their territory. In most rural areas of the Mediterranean region live stock is grass-fed, as opposed to the live stock in North America that is fed mostly with genetically-modified corn and soy.

The health benefits of Mediterranean diet are largely researched and documented area, and I cannot add anything to it, but I can give you a short list of food ingredients that you can include in your diet in order to improve your eating habits.

1. Fresh vegetables - artichoke, field tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, spinach, arugula, beans, fennel, okra, radicchio lettuce, grape leaves and olives.

2. Fresh herbs - basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon, rosemary, fresh dill, cilantro and Italian parsley. Even the dried varieties of some of those herbs have good health benefits. The fresh herbs can be consumed in pastas, salads, with meats or in sauces such as basil pesto.

3. Greek yogurts and other fermented products, such as kefir, are good for your immune system. I usually avoid yogurts made with modified milk ingredients. Yogurt should ideally have only two ingredients - milk and bacterial culture.

4. Fresh fish - fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon and sardines contain a lot of Omega oils, with proven benefits for your heart health.

5. Eat fresh seasonal fruits, as opposed to the sugary western desserts.

6. Use honey as a natural sweetener instead of sugar and corn syrup.

7. Incorporate more nuts in your diet as a substitute to the highly processed snacks. Walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts are a good healthy choice.

8. Replace all margarine, butter and canola oil with olive oil and sunflower oil in your diet.

9. Replace all table salt in your diet with sea salt, or even better, with rock salt.

10. Replace all simple carbohydrates with complex carbohydrates. That means, replace all white bread with whole-wheat pita bread; replace all white buns with whole-wheat focaccia buns.

The Mediterranean diet is a delicious and healthy way to eat. If you make the switch to this style of eating you may never want to look back.

Chef George Krumov
About the author: George Krumov is a Red Seal certified chef with many years of culinary experience working around the world in Europe, the Middle East, the cruise line industry and North America. In the last two decades he has headed the kitchens of several restaurants in Canada, and ran his own restaurant.

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