It’s the truth: I love food; whether it is “good for me” or not. I will eat almost anything that is put in front of me. From a tasty Mediterranean diet white bean soup with a Greek salad to hot dogs from the grill with a bowl of Cool Ranch Doritos and a Guinness, I’m all in. When I was younger and didn’t think much about my health, this was a real problem. That is because most of what was put in front of me wasn’t healthy. Now, at home or on the road, I choose to eat delicious, healthy foods that makes me feel good. Occasionally, I end up in situations where baby back ribs and french fries are the choice. Let me reiterate that when this does happen I love it. But, I don’t make this kind of choice on a daily or even weekly basis.
One of the fundamental differences between the traditional Mediterranean diet and the modern American diet is that Americans have almost unlimited food choices. In the Mediterranean, the diet traditionally includes only what is grown, produced or raised locally. The island of Crete is where I focused much of much of my research on the Mediterranean Diet. Until recently, people in Crete ate from the land. The land was rich in fresh organic vegetables, wild edible greens, olive trees, grass fed goats, and grapes to make wine and Raki (type of moonshine). Almost nothing was imported. People lived so long because they were working and eating from the land. It just so happens that what they were eating was an almost perfect anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense diet that kept disease away and kept people strong, well into their 90’s.
The basic foods of the Mediterranean remained the same for tens of thousands of years. Unfortunately, in the past 15 years, the food system has changed to become a bit more “Americanized”. In the United States we are introduced to 20,000 new food products every year! Foods are scientifically adulterated with the purpose of making us crave them. We are unable to stop eating even when we are more than full. There is a reason why it is easy to eat ten tortilla chips and stop, yet we can’t stop eating Doritos until the whole bag is gone. The good news is that the basic foods that will help us lead long and healthy lives are still very much available. Although we might end up at the occasional buffet of unhealthy delights we can chose to eat a Mediterranean diet meal by meal, day by day. Recently, I spoke with a man from Italy who told me that the Mediterranean Diet is about indulgence and balance. It is about eating the freshest, most local foods possible, creating mouth watering delicious recipes and enjoying your meal with friends and family. The balance comes from enjoying the occasional decadent food and not worrying about consequences.
It has been ten years since I first visited Crete, wrote the cookbook “Foods of Crete: Traditional Recipes from the Healthiest People in the World” with Koula Barydakis, and radically changed my life by losing 40 pounds. Since that trip, I started Mediterranean Living. I am constantly learning how to eat and live more like the people of the Mediterranean. Here are some of the most important things I have learned over the past ten years on how to eat and live Mediterranean in the United States.
1. Learn About Mediterranean Diet and Lifestyle.
Besides living in Spain for a month when I was twenty, my first experience with Mediterranean Diet was from cookbooks. The first two Mediterranean cookbooks I owned were from garage sales: “The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook” by Nancy Harmon Jenkins and “The Art of Greek Cookery” by St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church. I recommend both of these as excellent introductions to the Mediterranean Diet. I also recommend our book:“Foods of Crete: Traditional Recipes from the Healthiest People in the World.” Of course, there is no substitute for traveling to Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, or any of the other countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. In 2005, I spent two months living on the Greek island of Crete. Nothing compares to living in the Mediterranean to get a true understanding of the Mediterranean way of living. Certainly a 10 day trip will give you a taste.
2. Discover Your Local Resources
I live in western Massachusetts and am surrounded by organic farms and small food companies that make everything from sourdough bread, to hummus, to yogurt from grass fed cows. My wife and I have a farm share every year. We stop by the farm weekly during the growing season and pick up our share of the most amazingly colorful and tasty organic veggies. It costs much less than non-organic veggies would cost in the supermarket. Most large cities now have farm shares that are delivered either to your door or to a farmer’s market in the area. One of the best places to discover resources in your area is to visit the local farmer’s market. Ask around for what’s in season and locally grown and you will probably find everything you need to eat the Mediterranean diet.
3. Discover On-line Resources
There is an incredible array of information on the web, and the best stuff you will probably not find simply bygoogling “Mediterranean Diet”. Here are some of my favorite resources
Oldways is a non-profit that specializes in promoting the Mediterranean Diet. Their site is full of recipes from some of the top Mediterranean chefs around the world. You can also find the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid on their site. Here is a link to the Oldways site.
At Mediterranean Living, we are passionate about both the diet and lifestyle of the Mediterranean. We have delicious recipes as well as information about mindfulness, exercise, community and other aspects of this lifestyle.
Our friend Diane Kochilas lives on the Greek Island of Ikaria, which is similar to Crete in that it’s inhabitants live long, healthy lives. Her site includes a new recipe every day and information on her cooking classes. Stop here to visit Diane Kochilas’ website.
Aglaia Kremezi is one of the pre-eminent food writers about Mediterranean Diet. Her site includes recipes from her latest book “Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts”. We are big fans and recommend you stop by her site for a visit.
Nancy Harmon Jenkins is another spectacular food writer and cookbook author. We love her recent book, “Virgin Territory.” Stop by her site for recipes, events and more.
4. Move with Purpose
I was drinking wine and eating bread with tzatziki in a taverna in Crete when I looked out the window and saw an older gentleman lifting huge rocks to create a stone garden. I was in awe of his strength knowing that carrying that kind of weight would certainly throw out my back. The owner of the taverna, was also watching the man. “How old do you think he is?” he asked me. I guessed he was around 60 or 65. “That man is 93 years old,” he said. The people of Crete are active during their whole lives, yet they never go to a gym. They are busy foraging for greens, tending their gardens, and cooking. This kind of movement has a purpose besides exercise. Here in the United States, exercise is often considered a necessary evil and seems to have very little value besides its health benefit My favorite type of exercise has always been building something or helping friends with projects in their yards. This type of exercise does more than just benefit your health, it actually gets something accomplished.
5. Slow Down
People in the Mediterranean know how to relax. Their dinners last for hours, they take naps in the afternoon, and they love to spend time visiting with friends and family. For me, this part of the Mediterranean lifestyle is both the most wonderful and also the hardest to follow. I can do it when I am on vacation, but enjoying a low stress life while running a business in America sometimes seems counter-intuitive. Yet, there are always ways to relax, even at work. Sometimes, just taking 5 minutes to breathe is enough to reduce the risk of burn out throughout the day. My wife, Christine and I are consciously working to simplify our lives in order to reduce our stress. This will allow us to do more of the activities that we are passionate about. Are there ways that you can simplify or slow down your life?
6. Know How To Eat Well On The Road
I do a lot of traveling to teach workshops throughout the country. Being on the road used to be the hardest time for me to follow a Mediterranean diet. Going into a rest area on the highway, I would be inundated with McDonald’s, Papa Gino’s, and Dunkin Donuts. Getting off the highway wasn’t much better; I would often end up at Panera Bread, which was the best choice possible. Over the years, I have become smarter with traveling. Planning ahead and bringing healthy snacks, such as nuts and fruit, helps prevent me from getting so hungry that I’ll eat anything available. I also have been using apps to find the best and most traditional Mediterranean restaurants wherever I am. There are Mediterranean dishes and Greek restaurants almost everywhere, you just need to do a little research to know where to find them.
7. Get Support
One of the things that has made it easy for me to live a Mediterranean lifestyle is that I have a supportive wife, family, and friends. Because Christine has also embraced the Mediterranean way of living, it has become easier for me to follow. We have friends that love to cook and share our passion for living a more Mediterranean lifestyle. We are also excited to be creating an online community of people around the world who also share an interest in living healthier, tastier lives. You can join our Facebook community at Mediterranean Living and see what I mean! It is so much easier when the people around you are involved and have the same goal.
The past ten years for me have been an incredible journey to living a Mediterranean lifestyle. Everyday has become a culinary adventure, whether I am cooking at home or eating in a restaurant. There is a tremendous variety of foods to try, leaving me in a constant state of wonder and delight. I have found that the more I put into practice the basic tenets of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, the happier and more satisfied I am with my life. All of us at Mediterranean Living welcome you into our community and hope that you will share our love for Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. Feel free to ask us questions in the comments below!
Bill Bradley, R.D.
Mediterranean Living Founder
This blog originally appeared on the Tasteful App blog.