You Are What You Eat: Greeking Out

you are what you eat

Diet is a lot like religion and politics. Your opinions can make you friends or enemies. I usually disclose my bias up front so people know where I stand. I describe myself as an organic omnivore with a Mediterranean slant. I arrived at this way of eating by looking at science and tradition.

The traditional Mediterranean diet sustained the populations of Spain, Italy, Greece, Crete, and the Near East. In the 1960s, these regions enjoyed one of the highest life expectancies in the grown vegetables and fruits, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds. Modest amounts of cheese and yogurt were consumed daily, and up to four eggs per week. Fish and poultry were consumed several times a week, but red meat only a few times per month. Olive oil was the principle fat and wine was enjoyed in moderation with meals. Unlike many of the diets today, the Mediterranean model is not theoretical or influenced by the food industry.

The Mediterranean diet is the most scientifically documented of all. It was put to the test in the early 1990s when it proved to be more effective in saving the lives of heart patients than any other drug, lifestyle program, or diet. Incredibly, patients’ health began to improve only four months into the clinical trial. Overall, researchers found a 76 percent lower risk of dying from heart attack and stroke, compared to those following the American Heart Association (AHA) diet.

After two years, the trial was halted because the superiority of the diet was strikingly obvious, and it would have been unethical to continue the study at the expense of the AHA group. Today, studies continue to demonstrate benefits of Mediterranean-style diets. Just this year, one of the largest trials found that those following the plan had a 30 percent lower risk of major cardiovascular problems.

The Mediterranean lifestyle is not just about food, but also about exercise and relaxation. Meals are not in front of the computer or shoved down as quickly as possible. Lunch can be a one- or two-hour event, long enough to incorporate a short walk or nap. Seems to me the Mediterranean lifestyle trumps the rock-and-roll lifestyle.