The Mediterranean diet receives nothing but praise from those who adopt it and those who admire it. But what is the story behind this famous diet?

The Mediterranean Diet is more than just food, it’s a way of life. This traditional eating lifestyle offers the flexibility to incorporate a wide range of nutrient-dense food and live a healthy lifestyle. Although food is the main component, it has a cultural and personal side.

Makos Efthimis, owner of the food blog ‘The Hungry Bites’, grew up with The Mediterranean lifestyle in Crete, Greece. He said: “The Mediterranean lifestyle is reflected in the food and the way you prepare it. Most recipes don’t use cups or grams, but instead, they tell you to use as much flour as you needed. You have to use your senses and intuition in order to know when the recipe is right. In other words, you have to be connected with what you’re doing.”

Inspired by his Greek heritage, and his love for cooking and photography, Efhimis started his food blog showcasing recipes that incorporate the Mediterranean diet.

Efthimis, said: “Whilst I was growing up, I had no idea that I was doing so according to the Mediterranean lifestyle. Some of my most intense memories are the ones when the whole family gathered around the dinner table. Food is very important for the Mediterranean people and offering a warm meal to your family is considered to be one of the most affectionate things one can do.”

The Mediterranean Diet originated from the food cultures of ancient civilisations which developed around the Mediterranean Basin.

It began to gain popularity in the 1950s when researchers saw that certain populations in the Mediterranean Sea were overall in better health and were living longer than wealthier countries in the Western World. (All of this despite the poor medical services and lower standards of living that they had at the time!)

 The countries that surround the Mediterranean Sea include Greece, Italy, Spain, Morocco, Egypt, and Lebanon (add more). The aim of the diet is to use few ingredients to make flavourful dishes whilst eliminating food waste as much as possible. The diet encourages a healthy lifestyle pushing people to incorporate more fruit and vegetables into their daily meals.

Efthimis said some of the staple dishes of the Mediterranean diet are grilled fish, white bean soup and other legume dishes like baked chickpeas and whole wheat sourdough bread. However, Olive oil is the ‘undisputable star of the Mediterranean Diet’.

So, what are the general requirements when it comes to it? Unlike other diets, the Mediterranean diet does not have strict requirements. Most meals should be eaten with vegetables, fruits, whole-grain bread, pasta rice and extra virgin olive oil.

On most days, nuts, seeds dairy (preferably low-fat, and herbs and spices should be consumed. Finally, every week some meals should include, at some point, some poultry, seafood, fish, eggs, potatoes, and legumes.

Foods with added sugars, processed meat, red meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages are consumed sparingly. Sounds like a lot to take in, but once you start, it’ll be second nature!

Most of these foods are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants which help lower the risk of disease.

Although the Mediterranean diet follows similar rules, each country has their twist on it. Whether that’s using particular spices or vegetables, each Mediterranean country makes the lifestyle their own.

Efthimis, said: “I believe that the thing that differentiates the Mediterranean Diet in Greece, is ‘Horta’. Horta is a Greek word that describes all the leafy plants that grow on earth. There are a lot of recipes using every kind of wild Horta.”

He said that even in Greece, local cuisines can be completely different. For example, Cretan cuisine (an island in Southern Greece) is very different from the cuisine of Epirus (a region in the North of Greece).

In Spain, where the Mediterranean lifestyle is popularly embraced, it is a good way for them to promote tapas culture. ‘Tapas’ is an appetizer in Spain. Tapas are usually shared on a plate between multiple people. Again, bringing in the idea of community and neighbourliness. Some staple foods in Spain include paella and other rice dishes and fresh fruit and vegetables.  However, apart from food, exercise plays a huge role in this as well. 

Apart from the amazing food it brings, the Mediterranean lifestyle promotes the sharing and consumption of food. So, if you’re not one to share, then this might not be your cup of tea. However, eating together is the foundation of the cultural identity of communities throughout the Mediterranean Basin. There is a big emphasis on the values of hospitality, neighbourliness, creativity, and a way of life guided by respect for diversity.

And if that wasn’t enough to convince you, the Mediterranean diet is said to have many health benefits. Reema Patel, a London-based dietitian for Dietitian Fit said: “There is such great research to show the health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet. This includes that it is an effective diet to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as overall mortality”.

Now, who wouldn’t want to increase their chance of living a longer life? Patel said it can also reduce stress and inflammation that can otherwise lead to cell damage and ageing. The diet contains a rich source of antioxidants so this is why it has so many benefits. With there being a focus on more natural and organic ingredients, you are guaranteed to get the best out of them!

Patel said:” We would encourage people to adapt to this way of eating for long-term health benefits including cardiovascular health and healthy ageing. With the quality of the research behind this diet, it’s clear that there are benefits in eating the Mediterranean lifestyle.”