Diving Into The Mediterranean Diet
Nutritionist, naturopath, chiropractor, and highly sought-after speaker Dr Damian Kristof discovers why this time-honoured diet can significantly improve your health and longevity.
In the Mediterranean Sea, there are two islands called Sardinia and Ikaria. They are both renowned for their remarkable longevity statistics, which continue to intrigue scientists and researchers. The so-called Mediterranean Diet, which emphasizes the minimally processed fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, grains, herbs, fish, and olive oil that are widely consumed in this area, has become one of the most popular diets in the world and is strongly linked with improved heart health and a reduced risk of cancer and depression.
Interestingly, even though the diets eaten on these two islands are both put under the same banner of the Mediterranean Diet, they are actually very different. Let’s identify the three key reasons behind the efficacy of the Mediterranean Diet.
Marcus Pearce and I are fascinated by the topic of longevity. We have traveled to Ikaria (nicknamed ‘the island where people forget to die’) and Sardinia for the past seven years, to understand the secrets of these idyllic havens and to share them with attendees at our Longevity Experiences.
A little history: in 2016, Marcus and I went to Ikaria for the first time, where we met Thea Parikos. Parikos became world-famous after featuring in Dan Buettner’s research expose of the world’s Blue Zones (areas around the world where inhabitants routinely live to 100 or more years old, and remain in good health), which was published in National Geographic. During that 10-day trip, we experienced what we thought was the secret behind Ikaria’s status as a Blue Zone: a diet featuring fresh feta, sun-warmed tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, capsicums as sweet as strawberries, a little fish or goat meat, bread, lashings of tzatziki and the freshest, fruitiest olive oil you could imagine.
For the duration of our stay, these foods formed the template of every meal we ate; from time to time, potatoes, spanakopita, chicken and fava beans and chickpeas put in an appearance as well.
A different perspective
Then more recently, Marcus and I traveled to Sardinia to meet Dr Ivo Pirisi. He is a world-renowned longevity authority who was once closely connected to the Blue Zone model, but is now more skeptical of its finite and deliberate framework. Pirisi presented us with a scenario where coincidence and several other factors could have played a much more significant role in the longevity outcomes of these areas than their traditional diets.
We learned that, in the 4,000 years of ‘modern’ inhabitation of Sardinia, the diets of centenarians have varied from being strongly plant-based (but not vegan or vegetarian) to almost purely carnivorous, as well as featuring consumption of substantial quantities of cheese and wine.
It is fair to say that during our Sardinian stay, we ate like kings! Salad, handmade cheeses, mouth-watering fresh meat, yeast-free breads, olive oil, luscious fruit and delicious wines rich in flavonols like resveratrol and with the highest content of OPCs (oligomeric proanthocyanins) in the world.
3 key similarities
So, what did we learn from observing these two quite different versions of the Mediterranean Diet in two separate and distinct countries? What do they have in common?
The food that is eaten on both Sardinia and Ikaria is seasonal. It is rare for food to be bought or eaten out of season. For example, when we were there we ate spanakopita, which is usually made with spinach – but because it is not in season during summer, amaranth leaves were substituted.
Sardinian and Ikarian diets are not influenced by fads and food fashions; the people there are unlikely to define themselves as being a carnivore or herbivore, or as following any other dietary regime. Instead, they focus on having a small plate of legumes, protein, vegetables and fruit for each meal. Nor do they necessarily eat three meals a day, it might be two or even five, but they never overeat.
Last but definitely not least, food eaten on these islands is local. It is either home-grown or purchased from local farms or community plots, and shared among friends and family. This means that both islands eat what is available, rather than what is imported, which benefits their health and the environment
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