It’s a motto which people in the Mediterranean have been living by for centuries, eating a healthy and seasonal diet.
The first scientific proof of the benefits of a Mediterranean diet came from American scientist Ancel Keys, who lived in the Cilento region for 40 years, becoming an honorary citizen of the town of Pollica.
Following his initial studies in the US, from which he hypothesised a link between diet and cardiovascular disease, Keys decided to analyse the lifestyle of those countries less affected by these very heart conditions.
In 1962, he arrived in Pioppi, where he bought some land which he named Minnelea (after his hometown Minneapolis and the nearby Elea, birthplace of philosophers Parmenides and Zeno).
In this small fishing village in Campania, Keys founded the Seven Countries Study, which is still considered the largest study on nutrition to this day.
The research compared the diet of 14 samples among participants aged between 40 and 59, to make a total of 12,000 case studies across seven nations: Finland, Japan, Greece, Italy, Holland, the US and Yugoslavia.
The data collected led to clear results.
In countries in the Mediterranean Basin, which consume mainly pasta, fish and vegetables, and dress food only with olive oil, the percentage of deaths due to cardiovascular disease was much lower than in countries such as Finland, where the diet includes a large amount of saturated fats and red meat.
The Mediterranean diet is based on the daily consumption of fruit, vegetables, whole grains (unrefined pasta, bread and
rice), legumes and “good” fats, such as extra virgin olive oil and dried fruit.
Fish and seafood should be eaten four times a week, eggs and cheese three times a week, white meat once a week, and red meat, sweets and other packaged food only occasionally.
Though it’s quite a straightforward diet, it seems difficult to follow nowadays because it’s exactly the inverted pyramid with respect to the modern Western diet, which is rich in processed foods, red meat, added sugars and saturated fats.
It’s about time we took a step back to rediscover the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, which include, but aren’t limited to, a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, fatty liver, kidney disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, macular degeneration, allergies and asthma, bowel cancer and arthritis.
Despite advances in medical technology, cases of these illnesses have risen dramatically in recent times.
In 2010, the Mediterranean diet was recognised as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, which described it as “a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food”.
It is not only a diet, but a lifestyle which sees food as a social ritual, a moment of sharing and cultural exchange.
The food that we serve at our table is the result of a relationship of respect - not exploitation - with our environment and natural resources.
It’s a relationship which ensures the longevity of humankind and our natural surroundings.
Safeguarding this lifestyle goes far beyond the preparation of a simple dish.
But as the old saying goes, “little drops of water make a mighty ocean”, so here are some typical Mediterranean recipes
to help you rediscover the simplicity and deliciousness of ingredients our ancestors have used for centuries.
Pasta e fagioli alla napoletana
This dish is a specialty in the southern Italian city of Naples, in the region of Campania.
It is full of fibre and a hearty meal that will leave everyone feeling satisfied.
Find the recipe here.
Sarde alla marinara in padella
This recipe is perfect for seafood lovers.
It is a simple dish with few ingredients but a whole lot of flavour.
Minestrone alla genovese
There are thousands of ways to prepare a minestrone in Italy and each town and region has its own version.
This recipe belongs the the northern Italian town of Genoa, and is made up of slow-cooked vegetables seasoned with a basil pesto.
Pennette integrali con pomodori pachino e scamorza affumicata
This is a simple pasta dish featuring Pachino tomatoes and smoked Scamorza cheese.
Perfect for vegetarians, this is a great weeknight meal.
Check out the recipe here.