As I began writing this blog post, I found myself wondering how many people reading it will have actually bought a fresh turkey from the butcher, cleaned it and cooked it themselves —from scratch? Not many, I’ll wager, given the preponderance of pre-packaged butterballs and even of pre-cooked meals to take home — timesaving benefits of today’s industrialized society. Fast-food meats home-cooked meal. But is it actually as good for you as the meal grandma used to make?
This is about more than cooking and spending time in the kitchen; or about going back to the good old days when strawberries weren’t imported from halfway around the world, served in places and at times of the year when the best your parents could hope to have were photos of strawberries. It’s about the relation between how you eat and what you become. It’s about health.
Governments around the world today are trying to figure out how to manage escalating health care costs — particularly those centering on systemic diseases that currently plague the modern world, such as heart disease, the world’s number 1 killer, according to the World Health Organization. Then there’s cancer and diabetes.
One good way would be to start encouraging people to eat well and maintaining a healthy lifestyle before they start falling ill, by focusing on diet. That was the main takeaway of an international conference on food values I attended February 14 in Vatican City’s Casa Pio IV (Pope Pius IV), under the patronage of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Organized by olive oil proponent Paolo Pasquali of Villa Campestri in the Mugello Valley near Florence, the conference focused on Food & health, Food Traditions & Cultural heritage, and Food Values, and drew experts from the field of medicine, diet, nutrition, and cuisine to discuss “The Renaissance of the Mediterranean Diet and its Significance for a 21st century World. Pasquali points out, “There is no mystery about the relationship between diet and heath, both physical and mental. “Mens sana in corpore sano” – a healthy mind in a healthy body. And this can be achieved by returning to the food values of old, based on fresh produce, lean meats and fish and of course olive oil.”
What Is The Med Diet?
Basically, the Mediterranean diet includes fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, pasta and rice…and limits unhealthy fats. More specifically, according to the Mayo Clinic, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes:
• Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
• Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil
• Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
• Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
• Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
• Enjoying meals with family and friends
• Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
Getting plenty of exercise
Bloomberg’s just-released (March, 2017) Global Health Index of 163 countries shows that Italy — cradle of the Mediterranean Diet – boasts the world’s healthiest people, despite a struggling economy and unemployment among young people approaching 40%. “A baby born in Italy,” says the report, “can expect to live to be an octogenarian,” with far less incidence of high blood pressure than the US, UK, or Canada. Iceland, Switzerland, Singapore and Australia made up the rest of the top 5 healthiest nations. The US ranked 34, and tipped the scales as one of the world’s heaviest nations.
Medical research makes a good case for the Mediterranean Diet as a powerful force in staying healthy — one good way to contain healthcare costs. For example, the Mayo Clinic website states: A meta-analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality as well as overall mortality…(other) research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. The diet has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol that’s more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.
The Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced incidence of cancer, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer.