By Eli Follick
There are about 335 million people in the United States. About 700,000 of them die annually from cardiovascular disease, and millions more suffer the effects of diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. However, too often it seems that unless or until a person is directly impacted by disease, this data doesn’t motivate people to do away with unhealthful habits.
We all know, or know of, those who live long, satisfying lives even after years eating high-fat food, smoking, and drinking. We also hear of those who live a very healthy life but then die while jogging. What, if anything, can we learn from this kind of data and observation? How can “change” help everyone if we are all different? The most important first step is starting with your health care provider and members of his/her team. They can help you get the process underway.
Personally, I have grown to be a fan of the Mediterranean diet and the associated lifestyle changes connected with that program. Indeed, U.S. News & World Report just weighed in on the best diets for 2024, and the Mediterranean diet scored as the best overall in the annual best diet rankings for the seventh consecutive year. U.S. News also ranked the Mediterranean diet No. 1 in six other categories as best diets for diabetes, heart health, bone and joint health, healthy eating, easiest to follow, and most family friendly.
The Mediterranean Sea is surrounded by an extraordinarily diverse group of countries, and the differences among their foods are significant. This means that there isn’t a single diet that encompasses the entire Mediterranean region. The spice-laden dishes of Morocco bear little resemblance to the lemon- and caper-laced cuisine of southern Italy, for example. Rather, the Mediterranean diet is about what these countries have in common: a daily emphasis on vegetables and fruits, beans and lentils, whole grains, more seafood than meat and poultry, and heart-healthy olive oil.
Food in the Mediterranean diet is more than simply something to eat; it is a reflection of a culture and a way of life. A meal is something to sit down and appreciate, not something to chomp in the car while speeding from one activity to the next. On a Mediterranean table you are likely to see well-prepared food in smaller amounts instead of huge portions of processed foods. Also, it is likely that most or even all of the food on the table was grown in the home-owner’s garden. It is likely that the entire family and even the neighbors will be sitting around the table together.
During the day, many Mediterranean people will participate in community activities. Some will attend religious services. They always will have time to help a neighbor in need. Walking is a common mode of transport.
As part of my own learning process, I often refer to The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook, which includes 500 recipes representing the Mediterranean countries as well as a list of calories, carbohydrates, and other nutrients in the servings of each recipe.
Changing from unhealthy to healthy makes a difference in all aspects of life, but is only successful when done in a way that satisfies your individual needs. While no two people are the same, each of us can follow our own path on the journey to health.