Imagine yourself sitting in a sun-drenched outdoor café on the banks of the Greek Mediterranean shore. The vast turquoise sea meets the brilliant blue sky, and everything around you seems influenced by sea and sky, from the aquamarine-painted tables and chairs of the café to the foamy-white buildings and small shops jutting out over the seawall where the Mediterranean laps and splashes. The warm sun on your shoulders and the cool sea breeze on your face enhance the spectacular view, as the fragrance of white flowers scaling a peach-coloured trellis above your table mingles with the smells of salt and sea……
I have always been profoundly moved by life on the Mediterranean; the climate, the people and the close connection between food and family; the way food is revered and adored. Food, in this part of the world, is chosen and eaten with true love, it is a ritual to share with friends and an integral part of life itself. Diet is barely a socio-economic indicator on these shores; a fisherman and yacht-owning Billionaire will enjoy identical meals, at the same taverna, and even the lowliest criminal will feed himself properly.
Many of the happiest moments of my life so far were spent in the Aegean and Mediterranean; boozy afternoons in tavernas devouring calamari and carafes of white wine, barbecued sea bream against a back drop of hot pink bougainvillaea and fresh pizza margarita straight from the oven. As a nutritionist, cook and caterer I am profoundly influenced by this cuisine. For me, it is the most joyful, healthy and sustainable way of eating; the perfect balance of nutritionally sound and tasty food. I religiously use the principles of these diets to help my clients recover their health, lose weight for life and improve their relationship with food – and this method hasn’t failed me yet.
Sure, the climate in the UK, to some extent, limits our ability to live out a Mediterranean romance. But, surely, we should make the best of what we have? Across the Mediterranean & Aegean, vegetables and fruits are consumed in a wholly seasonal way, with produce such as wild greens, thin zucchini, green beans, spinach, spring peas, finocchi (or fennel), cherries and wild mushrooms being consumed in the spring, and tomatoes, aubergine, peaches, cantaloupe, watermelon, figs, peppers and onions in the summer. In late summer the wine harvest begins followed by persimmons and pomegranates and then, finally, olives are harvested at the earliest point of autumn. We can eat the same way here – maybe not the same vegetables and fruits but we can still try to follow a seasonal pattern. In terms of the diet itself, well, we can adopt the key Mediterranean features of abundant vegetables, wholegrains, olive oil, fish, limited dairy and occasional meat. We can learn from their attitude towards food and take more time choosing, preparing and eating what we eat and drink. We can ensure that the quality of food we buy is always the best we can afford and approach food with love, not anxiety. We can share meals with the people we hold dear and always thank the person who has cooked for us. We can embrace nature, grow our own food and get our hands covered in soil, as often as possible. Fresh air should run through our homes and, when it is sunny, we should sit out in it. Finally, we must ensure that the humble and delicious lemon features regularly in our diet. The zest, packed with vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene, magnesium and potassium, is even more nutritious than the juice and even works beautifully in a simple Spaghetti Bolognaise.