5 Basics of the Mediterranean Lifestyle |The Mediterranean Dish. The Mediterranean lifestyle begins with a healthy, well-balanced diet, but goes far beyond. Read this Mediterranean girl's perspective to help you follow this healthy lifestyle.

Back in August, a reporter for Neurology Today reached out.  Dawn’s request, “we’re doing a story about the Mediterranean diet and health. I was wondering if I could interview you about your blog and some of the tricks in switching to a more Mediterranean lifestyle?"

Yes, a good portion of our conversation focused on the Mediterranean diet--the food, cooking style and eating habits of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean. And we agreed that while the Mediterranean diet is one of the top 8 most popular diets, it is not a “diet” where the end goal is to simply loose weight. It is more of a lifestyle--a daily practice; a sustainable way of living.  And so that’s where the conversation went. And I will take it a step further here by sharing with you 5 basics of the Mediterranean lifestyle.

Before we go any further, one thing to keep in mind: this is not an expert opinion nor a comprehensive analysis of the Mediterranean lifestyle. This is me, a Mediterranean girl, sharing my own perspective on a lifestyle I practice.  And I am choosing to share only 5 things to help you understand, and perhaps begin to follow the Mediterranean lifestyle. For lack of a more creative title, let’s go with “5 basics of the Mediterranean lifestyle.”

5 Basics of the Mediterranean Lifestyle

Follow the Mediterranean Diet

Growing up, fresh vegetables, a handful of raw nuts, or even a bowl of lentil soup were my regular after-school snacks. Two times per week, my family ate fish or seafood for dinner, often with a side of rice or grains and a fresh chopped salad.  We ate other forms of lean protein like poultry, moderately. Red meats on occasion. I would be lying if I said chocolate, cakes and pastries never made an appearance, I mean hello baklava! But a piece of fresh fruit or dried fruit was a more regular dessert choice.

With all the variety on the Mediterranean food pyramid, it’s really hard to think that my family is following a “diet,” right? There are no food restrictions in the Mediterranean diet. Everything is pretty much allowed.

 

 

The Mediterranean Food Pyramid. Photo credit: Oldways
*The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid courtesy of Oldways

But if you look closely at the Mediterranean food pyramid, you’ll quickly notice that it focuses on grains and vegetables; dairy; fiber and lean proteins from nuts and seafood, and far less on fatty meats. Olive oil is also a main source of fat (almost every recipe here on the blog has olive oil as an ingredient). And yes, thank goodness, we can have a little wine! 

We can certainly dedicate another whole post to the Mediterranean diet alone, but the key is in balancing your meals according to the Mediterranean food pyramid. Eat more of what’s at the wide base of the pyramid; less and less of the items toward the top of the pyramid. Of course, pay attention to portion sizes; there is no “supersize meals” in the Mediterranean lifestyle.

Be with family. Share with loved ones

When it comes to eating and portion size, one helpful Mediterranean habit  is to eat as few meals as possible alone. I grew up eating all my meals at a table full of family and friends, and I try to do the same today. I don’t know about you, but when I share a meal with others, I tend to eat slowly, and I am less likely to stuff myself.

But beyond sharing a meal, the Mediterranean culture cultivates a balanced social life and a certain connectedness to the people who matter. 

Five years ago, when we lived in Iowa, I decided to limit my social life. Sounds contradictory, right? I went back to something I learned growing up on the shores of the Mediterranean. Something you may recognize as ancient Biblical wisdom, “a man with too many friends comes to his own ruin.” I surrounded myself with my family and only a few loyal friends. I surrounded myself with people who care deeply about me; people that will tell me the truth and help me grow. My social calendar, freed. My social life, far richer.

5 Basics of the Mediterranean Lifestyle |The Mediterranean Dish. The Mediterranean lifestyle begins with a healthy, well-balanced diet, but goes far beyond. Read this Mediterranean girl's perspective to help you follow this healthy lifestyle.

Move Naturally 

Here is a big confession from a true Mediterranean gal: Mediterranean folks do not exercise. I realize that I’m making a big generalization, and I know it seems like a bit of a paradoxical thing to add here. But seriously, Mediterranean people do not specifically carve out two hours a day for heavy lifting at the gym. But, that doesn’t make them inactive.

Nothing is too convenient when you live in that part of the world, so moving is a natural practice for people of the Mediterranean. They do a lot of manual labor; they climb lots of stairs; and they walk...a lot. They walk, at least part of distance, to their workplace daily. They walk to the farmer’s market, the bakery, or the dairy shop for a fresh Greek yogurt. They walk to their friends’ homes; and when they want to do something leisurely, they go out for a walk. My dad sold his car a few years ago; he didn’t need one in the first place. 

Now, if you are one of the small percentage of people who keep an active gym membership, please don’t quit. But as we know, 80% of the people who newly joined your gym this January will drop off by mid February. Inviting natural movement, a moderate exercise like a daily walk, is an effective and sustainable healthy habit.  I do yoga and CrossFit classes, but never everyday. I can more easily fit in a 30-minute walk.

Laugh Often

Are you familiar with the saying, “laughter is the best medicine?” That has certainly proven true in the case of the Mediterranean people. I can’t say that this is a characteristic of all people of Mediterranean heritage, but it is certainly evident in the many I know.  They are people of big personality. They love to tell stories; their conversations filled with humor. There is certainly a sense of priority-- yes, take life seriously, but to do so with a joyful attitude.

Live (More) Simply

Perhaps this is not completely by choice, but people of the Mediterranean, or at least the many I encountered across the places I've been--Egypt, Greece, Turkey and even France--tend to have far fewer possessions than I do living here in the States. And I've also observed that they make stewardship decisions when it comes to daily needs. Take food for example; Mediterranean folks don’t buy too much of any one ingredient. The whole concept of buying in bulk remains foreign to them. Eating freshly matters, and they don't mind making multiple trips to the market--on foot, mostly. Recipes like fattoush where day old bread is used, or paella where leftovers are turned into a stunning flavor-packed rice dish, are two examples of delicious ways to minimizing waste.

5 Basics of the Mediterranean Lifestyle |The Mediterranean Dish. The Mediterranean lifestyle begins with a healthy, well-balanced diet, but goes far beyond. Read this Mediterranean girl's perspective to help you follow this healthy lifestyle.

One final word, I am certain many cultures across the world share some of these lifestyle practices. And I would love to hear about positive lifestyle practices that you’ve found helpful to you. 

Related articles: How to stock your pantry for a Mediterranean Lifestyle.

 

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I'm Suzy; born and bred right on the shores of the Mediterranean. I'm all about easy, healthy recipes with big Mediterranean flavors. Three values guide my cooking: eat with the seasons; use whole foods; and above all, share! So happy you're here...
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Comments

  1. I love your recipes thank you for sharing them!
    As per the Mediterranean diet, in some ways it's an "old world" way of life that people all around the world lived for generations before the hurried pace of modern life and emphasis on commercially prepared foods with long shelf life took it away for many. They had gardens, they had fruit and nut trees in the yard, their ingredients came into the towns and markets from nearby farms, they walked, they ate seasonally and simply, they preserved the foods at harvest time, and good cooks were the ones who could transform the inexpensive, local and simple ingredients into something special with their skill of preparation and seasonings. It's sad that this "peasant" way of life is not available only to a lucky few who have the free time and access to such things, which are now considered luxuries.

  2. My husband and I are older Americans (mid-sixties) living and working in Almaty, Kazakhstan for a few years. We have no car and walk 3 - 7 miles most days all over the city, often to various groceries or restaurants. Though we are in a landlocked country, the Mediterranean lifestyle and diet is alive and well here because many look to European and Mediterranean countries for inspiration. We have fully embraced this way of living and enjoy it very much. We eat a lot more fresh vegetables (Mediterranean, Caprese, or Greek salads) with feta cheese. When we eat meat, it is usually salmon or ocean fish which has to be imported from Norway, Russia, Iceland, China and the Baltic countries. Chicken is also a meat choice for us here, preferably halal, which I have been learning about. We eat very little red meat (an occasional high quality steak at a restaurant), pork is almost non-existent (except for bacon, which we rarely have), and we try to eat more vegetarian meals like red lentil soup with a whole grain roll and a small Mediterranean salad,
    I came across your website and love it! I immediately subscribed and have been scouring it for days now. I love your presentation, your stories, and of course, your recipes. Thank you for your hard work putting this together and encouraging so many to embrace this lifestyle. You have put into words and pictures how I have always known I was supposed to cook, eat, and live to be my healthiest. It now seems so natural living here and seeing your blog.

    1. Hi, Nancy! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, and for the kind words, as well. It means so much to me that you are finding the blog so helpful.

  3. 5 stars
    I got this site from my buddy who told me regarding this web
    site and at the moment this time I am visiting this site and reading very informative posts at this time.

  4. Hi Suzy, I just listened to your Podcast for the first time on FBP. It was a great interview and extremely helpful. I am starting my own blog and learned a lot from your conversation with Bjork. I am a big believer in the MD. We travel to the area often and I try to instill the Mediterranean lifestyle into my family's daily life in Chicago. Thank you for your wonderful advice and your beautiful site and recipes. I look forward to following you more closely.

    Best
    Diana

  5. Dear Suzy,
    I am Hidayah from Singapore. I’ve been wanting to have Shakshuka. And, I just did! Made from scratch using your recipe! Success! Thanks for sharing. I first had Shakshuka at a friend’s house more than 20 years ago and fell in love with it. However, it’s something almost unheard of at that time (and no Google too) and not commonly found here until recently. Those that they sell here usually contains minced beef and I always doubted if that is authentic; so unlike my first love. A few days ago, I googled for the recipe and came across yours. I decided this must be the authentic Mediterranean dish that I must try. I didn’t know it’s so easy and delicious. I also tried your hummus and my husband and all my kids love it! Once again, thank you for sharing.

    1. Hello, Hidayah! I'm so this recipe was a success, and that you and your family have found some other recipes you've enjoyed!!

  6. You are so refreshing !
    I think lost our way with so many crazy diets (I tried many )
    I grew up in the country in south Texas, my dad always had a high garden (6 kids to feed , 5 of them boys) lol
    Daddy always fished and hunted with my brothers. For the most part we lived off the land .
    My mom is German and baked the most fabulous pastries.
    It makes me laugh when people talk about organic, that's the way we ate when I grew up ,and most of our friends.
    I love how you emphasize spending time with family and good friends, we need to get back to the old way.
    I'm excited to try out your rescipes. My doctor said the Mediterranean way of eating was the healthiest.
    By the way my 5 brothers and I are in their 50's and 60's and all healthy. Praise God

    1. Thank you so much, Ann. I appreciate you sharing. And it sounds like you already eat healthfully. Hope you find some tasty recipes to try here 🙂

  7. I LOVE this! Thank you so much for sharing. I have been really attracted to the Mediterranean lifestyle and I really desire to alter my life to replicate this.

    -Kayleigh

  8. I thank you for all you recipes , my husband has been in cardiac pulmonary r
    Ehab for 2 months and part of the education is Mediterranean food plan. I shared you app with our dietician and nutritionist at the hospital when his program is based. Thank you again Gwen Smitth

    1. Thank you for your kind note, Gwen! I am so happy this site has been helpful to you and your husband. All the best!