“The cooking of the Mediterranean shores, endowed with all the natural resources, the colour and flavour of the South, is a blend of tradition and brilliant improvisation. The Latin genius flashes from the kitchen pans.”
- Elizabeth David, A Book of Mediterranean Food

The Mediterranean diet has been a subject of great fascination for decades, conjuring up images of shiny vegetables stacked up on crowded market stalls, the evocative scent of garlic, lashings of bright olive oil, and healthy produce flourishing on sunbaked soil.

The desire to recreate the Mediterranean way of life from overseas isn’t just a tonic for those winter days when all you want is Italy, but is also great for your health. Today we’ll be looking at why it’s important to embrace this way of thinking about food, wherever you are.

Today, the ‘Mediterranean Diet’ is used as an eating plan, which has been carefully studied for decades. Ancel Keys, an American physiologist, who shed light on the fact that Mediterranean populations had far lower rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses compared to countries like the United States, using the term for the first time in his 1975 book How to Eat Well and Stay Well: the Mediterranean Way.

The diet consists of the following: 

  • High intakes of extra virgin olive oil (as the principal source of fat), vegetables, fresh fruit, grains, nuts and legumes. 
  • Moderate intakes of fish and other seafood, poultry, dairy products (mainly cheese and yogurt) and red wine. 
  • Low intakes of eggs, red meat, processed meat and sweets.

If followed correctly, the classic Mediterranean diet can have postive effects on one’s health, helping to lower cholesterol levels, as well as helping to prevent diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. One glass of red wine per day is also encouraged as it can have health benefits!

Although the foods that characterise this diet are mainly fruit, vegetables, olive oil and grains, this diet also includes proteins, dairy products and sweet foods. In fact, it’s important to remember that ‘diet’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘lose weight’, but instead it is more important to nourish the body with the right foods in moderation, paying attention to the whole process, from field to fork.

The Mediterranean diet was officially recognised by UNESCO in 2010, as it was added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This year, it celebrates its 10th Anniversary! They remind us that when thinking about the Mediterranean diet, it’s about so much more than the food on your plate.

The rituals of farming, conservation, processing, cooking and – above all – sharing, is a fundamental part of the Mediterranean identity. Sharing, whether it’s with family and friends around the table, or with a whole community for a food festival or weekly market, is a way of celebrating what we eat and where it comes from. In fact, the word ‘diet’ derives from the Ancient Greek ‘diata’, which literally translates as ‘a way of living’.

In the USA, there is a large Italo-American population, many of whom immigrated in the 20th century, bringing with them a whole culinary tradition that is a huge part of the Italian identity. It was a challenge for them to recreate their much-loved home cooking, as one of the secrets of Italian cuisine is in its very ingredients, which are not easily recreated abroad. In fact, the Mediterranean diet is everywhere in American films.

In The Bridges of Madison County, Meryl Streep plays an Italian bride who falls for a National Geographic photographer played by Clint Eastwood. She cooks him her favourite childhood recipes, a token to her roots. In Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love, two characters try in vain to prepare a truly Italian sauce for their pasta, and let’s not forget Julia Roberts devouring her plate of Spaghetti al Pomodoro in Eat, Pray, Love! 

We hope you’re inspired to enjoy your food like the Italians do – we’d love to hear what you think!

Learn how to cook like an Italian

Next time you travel to Italy, take home happy memories and cooking knowledge to last a lifetime.