People are interested in the Mediterranean Diet pattern because of studies dating to the 1950’s that countries around the Mediterranean (Italy but also Spain, Greece, France) had lower levels of heart disease than European countries with different dietary patterns. More recent research has upheld the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for preventing not only heart disease but also diabetes, certain kinds of cancer, even dementias like Alzheimer’s Disease. Why this is true is not known for sure, and everyone has a favourite theory but what is probably true is that it’s not just one food but rather the whole pattern of foods, along with other aspects of lifestyle such as physical activity, the social aspects of eating and so on.
The Mediterreanean diet pyramid shows the types of foods included in the traditional diet pattern, underpinned by physical activity and social interactions. Plant-based foods are grouped together and the recommendation is that some of these foods be eaten at every meal. This is different from Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide, which separates Vegetables and Fruits from Grains, but similar in that both recommend the most amount of food servings come from plant-based foods. Another difference is that the legumes (dried peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas) are included here, whereas in Canada’s Food Guide they are placed in Meat and Alternatives because of their high protein content. Next up the pyramid comes fish and seafood, which makes total sense when you live next to the Mediterranean Sea (and perhaps next to the Atlantic, Pacific or Arctic Oceans in Canada) but not so much sense in Saskatchewan! This is followed by poultry, eggs and dairy (mainly cheese and yogurt), recommended daily to weekly. The top of the pyramid has meats and sweets, which are recommended “less often”, implying less than once per week. Fluid intake centres on drinking water, with wine in moderation.
One of the recipes we saw demonstrated for us was a delicious, creamy soup base, which we had eaten previously with white beans, possibly cannellini beans. The amount of each ingredient is an approximation – have fun trying your own versions.
Creamy Soup Base with Beans a la Guiseppe
Heat 1-2 Tbsp (15-30 mL) olive oil in a large saucepan. Add one coarsely chopped yellow onion and sauté until translucent but not browned. Pour in about 4 cups (1 litre) of water. Add 2 cubed white potatoes, half a dozen fully ripe cherry tomatoes cut in half and a stalk of celery, chopped. Salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and let cook until the potatoes disintegrate.
At this point, add 1 cup (250 ml) cooked cannellini beans or, as Guiseppe says, whatever you like in your soup – some smoked provolone cheese, ham, fresh spinach or Swiss chard, grated carrots – the great thing about this soup base is that it’s infinitely flexible. If you like a really smooth soup, put the base in the blender or food processor for a few seconds before returning to the pot and adding the other ingredients. Additional water can be added as needed to achieve the desired consistency.