In our fast-paced, urbanized world, the Mediterranean diet has gained significant attention as a potential answer for individuals seeking a dietary approach that aligns with a metropolitan lifestyle. Here, we will explore the essence of the Mediterranean diet, its nutritional benefits, its sustainability in bustling cityscapes, and the contrasting relation of diet cultures within metropolitan cities and the Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) is a health-based diet that follows the staple produce and consumables found in countries like Spain, Italy, Greece, and Southern France. But to note, according to dietitian Victoria Taylor, it is not a strict set of rules nor is it copying what the Mediterraneans eat, but rather “guiding principles that influence how you select, prepare and eat food”. It is predominantly focused on a plant-based variety with whole grains, subsidiary selections of oily fish, and limited amounts of dairy. While recommending reducing foods like butter, pastries, processed meats, and high-fat dairy products.
The versatility of the Mediterranean diet is one of its appealing features, as noted during an interview with Nutritional Therapist, Valentina Cartago. She highlights the inclusion of legumes, seeds, nuts, and whole grains, along with her suggestion of fish under the acronym s.m.a.s.h. (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herrings), which adds to the diet’s desirability and allows for fresh taste and experimentation in culinary choices.
When considering the nutritional benefits and the preferences of individuals living a metropolitan lifestyle, Cartago emphasises several ways the Mediterranean diet can contribute to health in urban areas. Firstly, the diet is rich in healthy fats, which can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases—an important concern in urban settings characterized by fast-paced lifestyles that contribute to chronic stress and mental fatigue.
Secondly, the Mediterranean diet offers nutritional benefits through fibre-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, and herbs, which promote antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. These components protect cells from oxidative stress, reducing the risk of obesity and metabolic syndromes prevalent in Western societies that rely heavily on takeout meals, and have limited physical activity.
Lastly, the diet provides essential micronutrients that sustain long-term energy levels instead of relying on the sugar spikes caused by quick grab-and-go pastries and high-sugar foods commonly consumed in metropolitan environments. Cartago explains that these unhealthy dietary habits often lead to energy crashes, sugar cravings, fatigue, and mood swings. However, by incorporating a diverse range of healthy fats, proteins, legumes, and complex carbohydrates like quinoa or millet, individuals can experience sustained energy and focus throughout the day.
However implementing such habits into a metropolitan lifestyle may come with some challenges. The issue of our cultural attitude towards food – this will affect the social health of any environment. The Mediterranean Diet, as mentioned by Taylor, is how you approach food as much as how you prepare and eat it. It’s about taking moderation of exercise, well-being and socialising.
From the position of a more sociological stance, professor of social sciences Surinder Phull states that the Mediterranean outlook towards food indicates “greater importance to sociability and cooking and enjoying food with others whereas UK and US populations give more attention to convenience, choice and health” to then further add in his piece that “Cross-cultural studies have suggested that populations that prioritise pleasure over health demonstrate healthier eating behaviours”. Indicating perhaps that it is as doubly important to consider the aspects of social health as to support and sustain the nutritional benefits of the diet in the lifestyles found in Metropolitan areas. For the heightened levels of chronic stress and inflammatory conditions often associated with Urban lifestyles can be addressed by adopting a more relaxed approach and actively engaging in physical activities and social connections that bring joy and pleasure.
Another aspect that challenges the adoption of the diet is the time used. Given that high urban environments like London live a faster lifestyle as to keep growing the economy and developing the quality of life, the problem of time dedicated to slower engagements like cooking and eating patterns with a MedDiet selection seems daunting.
According to Cartago, however, the appeal of the diet can still be sustainable for most dishes to prepare for the plate are easy and quick to make. She uses a dish called ‘pasta e ceci’ as an example which is pasta consisting of chickpeas, carrots onion and celery, all to create a creamy effect that still retains its nutritional value under around 20 minutes.
While adapting the Mediterranean diet to a metropolitan lifestyle may pose certain challenges, it is a worthwhile endeavour for the sake of our bodily health. Moreover, it can respond to the broader concept of social health, promoting meaningful connections, social conviviality and embracing the pleasurable aspects of taste in food with health. As Cartago closes on the interview – “ It’s always going to be a synergistic combination that will help you to have a beneficial effect in your life and your health”.