The Standard American Diet is delivering chronic diseases in the form of diabetes, heart related diseases, cancers, and autoimmune diseases. Children today are the first in American history predicted to live shorter lives than their parents.
According to the National Cancer Institute, three out of four Americans don't eat a single piece of fruit a day, and close to nine out of ten don't reach the minimum recommended daily intake of vegetables. Ninety-six percent of Americans don't reach the minimum for greens and beans, 98% don't reach the minimum for orange vegetables, 99% don't reach the minimum for whole grains.
On the dietary quality index measuring nutrient density per calorie on a scale of 0-100, Americans scored an 11. Fifty-seven percent of the American diet is made up of highly processed flours and sugars, 32% from animal products, and only 11% from vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, seeds and whole grains.
Many of you have heard of the Mediterranean Diet. I am first generation from Italy. I began eating the Mediterranean Diet in the womb, and I proudly state I was made in Italy and un-packaged in the US. It goes without saying I am very ethnocentric: pro all things Italy. Just look at our business name, Forte, and our colors matching the Italian flag. However, I will admit that the Mediterranean diet is not ideal on all levels. Breakfast cappuccino and a pastry isn't the picture of perfection for breakfast. The amount of cheese, bread, pasta and cured meats is not the best for one's health either. I have heard it said that the Mediterranean Diet is healthy in spite of how unhealthy aspects of the diet are.
But, the facts don't lie.
Five of the seven highest rates of centenarians are Mediterranean countries. In one small town, Acciaroli, Italy, there are over 300 centenarians (live over 100 years) and more super centenarians (110+) than anywhere else in the world. Right now in 2018 there are four people over 115, and two are Italian.
So, what makes the Mediterranean diet work?
Italians eat in courses. Antipasti, which means before the pasta, typically includes cured meats and cheeses, but also roasted vegetables, nuts, and fruit. Next is the primo piatto, or first plate, which includes either pasta, rice or soup. It is not a large portion as many Americans may assume, and is typically full of plants in the form of either tomato sauce, kale, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, basil, parsley, mushrooms, asparagus, peas, garlic, nuts, or beans - and that is just getting started. Secondo piatto is the second plate with meat and more vegetables. Insalata is salad, which may include romaine, radicchio, arugula, carrots and tomatoes. And finally fruit as a dessert.
Although a typical lunch or dinner may include meat, cheese, bread, pasta and or rice, the meal has plants at every course. The meats and cheeses are often from pasture raised animals that provide disease protecting omega 3 fatty acids. The Sardinian diet that is almost 50% fat because of cheese and olive oil boasts the highest rate of centenarian men in the world.
The Mediterranean diet works because of the quantity and diversity of plants consumed at both lunch and dinner. The Mediterranean lifestyle is another factor. Community and rest is built into the day. It is culturally acceptable and expected to stop and eat lunch with family and friends followed by a short nap. In the afternoon Italians take a stroll through the piazza and have an Aperol spritz or gelato. Although these are far from healthy choices, the stress reduction is a hidden benefit to longevity.
In summary, there are three lessons to learn from Mediterranean people: you don't necessarily need to take away the treats you enjoy, but add in lots of veggies, fruits, nuts, beans and seeds at every meal; take time to be together, sharing a meal, and taking a walk together; add rest into your day - a short nap of 20-30 minutes will serve to make you more productive, not less.
Buonagiornata e buon appetito!!!