What’s so special about the Mediterranean Lifestyle?

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There’s been a huge interest in the Mediterranean lifestyle of late. Did you see the documentary a while back about an island in Greece where the people are living into their 90’s and living well?

The Mediterranean diet is not particularly belonging to any one country but to the 23 countries edging along the Mediterranean Sea. They are all quite varied, some adding a variety of spices or herbs but one thing they all have in common – they emphasise the eating of seasonal fruit and vegetables, nuts, fish and the use of good quality olive oil.

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I remember in the 1980’s the big scare over eating eggs and the cholesterol concern. I was working in the city at the time and one of my colleagues was into the latest eating fad at the time. We got into discussion about what foods were best for us and eggs came up. He was outright against eggs and when I shared with him my father ate two eggs a day fried in butter and was in his 60’s and going strong – his response was it’s bad for his heart!

Today my father is 90 years old, has a heart as strong as an ox and looks like he will be going strong for at least another decade! His diet always consists of fish, vegetables and yogurt…oh and his two fried eggs every morning!

Let me add here that genes play a huge role. Yay for me!

My father has been drinking within moderation all his life but he has been also smoking since he was 13 years old. I find that part fascinating and maybe this could be the reason why two decades ago he was treated for bowel cancer (which they caught in the very early stages and he is cancer free today). But as many of you know, in Europe the majority are smokers but still many live long healthy lives! Not that I am advocating smoking here, I can’t stand the habit and always make it clear to the smokers I am not happy they are smoking in my space! But how is it that they are still living long and healthy lives? It sure baffles me.

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While visiting my relatives in Greece a couple of months ago, I was surprised when they informed me that they are aware of no one in their family line ever dying of cancer. Now that is impressive. I’m like, “okay Panopoulos genes I will take every bit of you!!”

I believe our lifestyle, that is, our diet, our exercise, our relationships with others plays a big role in our wellbeing. Also, our purpose in life, if we are living it, having success in it, it can also play a big role in a happy and long life.

When I had finished home schooling our youngest daughter, I found myself at a crossroad. Actually it was a very tough time for me personally as I had just spent 20+ years full time at home and suddenly my role as full time educator had finished and I felt lost and without purpose.

Before kiddies, I was a stenographer in an office. It was a fill in job really until I could have kiddies and stay home full time. It was the era when mammas stayed home with their kids until they were ready for school. I stayed home not because culture dictated it; I stayed home because I wanted to. I wanted to have time with my kids, getting to know them, teaching them life skills and hopefully raising them to be empathetic and considerate human beings. And not saying parents who send their kids to a formal school setting can’t do that – I have met many, many families and children who are exceptional human beings so please don’t misunderstand me here.

If you have had to transition from one role to another, what did you do to make it as smooth as possible for yourself and those around you?

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What I discovered after all those years of ‘home’ is that I had to find myself beyond my role as a mum. It was important for my health and wellbeing that I did rediscover my purpose. You see, if you don’t your risk of falling into bad habits, such as eating food to comfort yourself is very real. So knowing your purpose is part of a healthy lifestyle.

Another important factor in living that healthy lifestyle and seen in Mediterranean circles is that people eat together. I love that! It doesn’t matter what generation you belong to, everyone is welcomed and everyone is valued. Our modern society creates compartments. There is the children in one corner, the middle aged in another and the older in yet another.

Years ago I had this picture of what our modern society was creating. There was this big banquet table set. It was beautifully set with white tablecloths, decorated with fresh flowers and filled with the freshest of food – lobsters, cheeses, olives, fruit and salads – just let your imagination run wild here and picture it for yourself – and in the corner there was a rickety old table with frozen fish fingers for the children.

That is not the picture in Greece, Italy, France and many other countries. There is one large table spread with the best of the best of foods and everyone, young, middle and old come and eat from it. Eating together contributes to a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle.

What are some things you can do to start eating together with family and friends on a regular basis?

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Growing up in a sporty family, I can’t remember ever not playing any type of sport. If it wasn’t kicking the ball around in the backyard with my brothers, it was playing with the neighbourhood kids at the local park or on a Saturday morning in competition sport. I played every sport I could get my hands on at school and generally, life for me was all about what team sport I could play!

A couple of years ago I gave up playing competition sport. The busyness of life now didn’t leave room for me to include Saturday sport, which was a shame but I also didn’t appreciate the aggressiveness that was so present in a lot of the sport today. Constantly I was protecting my body from rough and inexperienced players on the soccer field or netball courts and in the end I decided injury was not worth it…well not at 50 anyway! But living an active life is part of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Today you will find me taking leisurely strolls along the beach and swimming in the deep blue sea!

But what you eat is equally just as important as all the above and adopting the Mediterranean diet is so easy. Not only that, knowing that the Mediterranean diet is made up of recipes from 23 countries, there is never time to get bored of what you eat!

Can you name all 23 countries that are considered Mediterranean?

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In a nutshell, the Mediterranean diet consists of eating lots of fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and olive oil. Adding to this is yogurt, eggs, cheese and poultry eaten in moderation. Eating red meat is every now and then and avoiding sugar-sweetened drinks, processed meats, refined grains and refined oils is strongly encouraged. In other words, eating what is in season and unprocessed is really what the Mediterranean diet is all about.

Talking about eating in season, living in Australia we don’t do that too well. We have access to some many fruits and vegetables out of season that I think we need a 'Food in Season' Revolution!

I remember eating Turkey chops in Greece one spring visit and my uncle was beside himself. He couldn’t believe we would purchase Turkey out of season and consume it! Our eating habits were so dictated by the large supermarkets that we didn’t even realise there was a ‘turkey season’.

We have been so impressed by those that eat in season that we have decided to give it a go in 2018. I don’t know how we will go, you know, we are so used to going to the supermarket and getting what we want and not thinking about whether it’s in season.

We also will need to research what we can freeze or bottle to keep us going over the out of season months. For example, I didn’t realise garlic is a summer fruit. And all this time I have been purchasing garlic throughout the year and not realising its imported garlic. That’s the other thing – we want to support our local Australian farmers. What I can do is buy up a lot of garlic in February, peel it and put in small zip lock bags, freeze and use on demand. I already do that with my chilli and jalapeno so I know the fabulous benefits of doing this!

What food do you love to eat and miss it when not in season? Can it be preserved for use in the out of season months?

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So recapping – living out our purpose is life giving, spending time in good relationships around the table is essential, actively moving on a regular basis is needed and a healthy, seasonal diet is the key to living well.

Want to witness this type of lifestyle? Join us next year on our Active Food Adventures to Crete, Greece. We will experience authentic Mediterranean living as we eat, move and learn all about it.

If you are interested, send me an email – insofiaskitchen@gmail.com or check out our website – www.insofiaskitchen.com.au for more details.

Happy summer holidays for my southern hemisphere friends and happy winter holidays for my northern hemisphere friends! And may you experience true peace and joy with those around you!

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