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The Big Picture
I’m finally adjusting back to U.S. eastern standard time and getting back into my old routines. My taste buds are still longing for the flavors of Italy and Greece, but I thoroughly enjoyed my first homecoming meal – a big salad topped with black beans, salsa, and guacamole (I was literally dreaming of guacamole on my return flight). After watching a few mediocre movies (I can never sleep on planes), I spent the rest of my journey thinking about the research presented at the conference. What aha moments did I have? What was the most important food/nutrition lesson I learned?
To be honest, this conference served as an affirmation of what I already know and believe (and what I see in my practice). Not much of what I heard was brand new to me (as a media spokesperson, university faculty member, practitioner, and health writer, I’m constantly reviewing research). But, I really enjoy the opportunity to mull over information, and allow it to gel in my brain (I’m definitely a big picture kind of gal). And on that note, here are my thoughts:
The Greek Mediterranean diet is arguably the healthiest diet on the planet, but for reasons you’ve already read about in the Diet Dish. Greeks:
-Eat a wide variety of produce
-Consume monounsaturated fats and consume fat with plant foods to boost the absorption of disease protective nutrients
-Consume healthful foods like nuts, figs and olives as staples
-Limit meats and dairy products
-Eat beans often
-Eat little processed food
-Eat smaller portions on smaller dishes
-Enjoy rich treats/desserts in moderation
-Eat locally grown foods
-Cook at home
And, the Mediterranean diet extends beyond the plate, into individual and families’ every day lifestyles. Afternoon breaks for naps are still widely accepted, and family and social networks are highly valued.
Basically, Greeks consistently do many of the “right” things. One scientist who presented argued that these things combined provide enough protection to prevent Greeks from dying “as much as they should” from doing the A#1 “wrong” thing (hint: my photo of the nut vendor smoking as he doles out his goods). She was referring to the fact that Greece has one of the highest smoking rates in the world; 40% of the adult population smokes (vs. 23% in the U.S.). The incidence of lung cancer has risen 50% in the past 30 years in Greece and more Greeks die from lung cancer than any other European country.
So, bottom line, Greeks are living proof that what we know about nutrition really works. If they would just "butt out," they might just live forever! Fun fact: in terms of life expectancy, Greece currently ranks 25th in the world; the U.S. is 48th!
P.S. Jack (who couldn’t come along) greeted me at the airport with a dozen roses. Awwwww, what a guy!
photos courtesy of Cynthia Sass