Ikaria: The land of a real Mediterranean Diet

The diet that I thought would be the easiest to square away has turned out to be the hardest: the Mediterranean Diet.  As I have highlighted previously it’s mostly about trying to dress up a Standard American Diet into something that sounds healthy so that people can feel good about trying to eat healthy.  If it wasn’t just lipstick on a pig I wouldn’t find the concept so offensive.  I still wouldn’t bother eating it for 3 months just to pretend to be picking up a new eating style, but at least there could be a claim of some health benefit.  That still leaves me to try to figure out what I’m going to do for an actual Mediterranean diet.  As I worked through my backlog of podcasts this week I think I found some hints to what I’m looking at in the form of the diets of the Sardinians and Ikarians.

As luck would have it Ben Greenfield was discussing longevity in general in this podcast. The bulk of the podcast was discussing anti-aging strategies with Dr. Aubrey De Grey, however he finished it up by referencingthis NYT article on Ikaria, Greece. The cute title of the article is “The island where people forget to die.” It’s actually part of a book and website on Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. When you look at their lifestyle and diet you can see it’s drastically different than a slightly modified SAD diet, and altogether quite tasty too.

A representative day of eating for them starts with a breakfast of goat milk, tea, honey and bread.  This isn’t Wonder Bread or a slice of bagel.  This is a stout whole grain sourdough bread like you’d expect to see in some Medieval banquet.  Lunch would be something like potatoes, beans and lentils, along with a salad of wild greens and fresh seasonal produce.  Dinner is more bread and goat milk type products.  Throughout the day they’ll be drinking their herbal teas, coffee (2-3 cups a day) and red wine (2-3 glasses a day).  Obviously there is some variety in that diet.  They add fish to some meals a few times a week.  A few times a month they’ll have some other kind of meat.  However you can see that the core of the diet is a very diverse variety of greens, beans and grains washed down with tea, coffee and red wine.  I think I can sign up for something like that!  Following the link to the Blue Zone website you find similar types of diets in the relatively nearby Sardinia.

It’s not just diet that gives these people their longevity.  There are a lot of lifestyle choices that do so as well, but that’s a bit out of scope for what I’m trying to tackle here.  I’m holding the other components of my lifestyle (namely stress, sleep and activity levels) relatively fixed over the 1-2 years.  The essence of the diets I’m trying to experiment with are supposed to be SAD alternatives with some sort of structure and evidence of healthy byproducts behind them.  Since the Mediterranean Diets I find are all fad, perhaps I’ll just start pouring through the Blue Zone book and other source materials to fashion my own.  That is a lot more work than I originally bargained for, esepcially for the very first diet I’m going to try.  However it will certainly be a fun exercise in culinary exploration.  As a side benefit maybe I’d be able to sling out a legitimate cookbook on the topic for other people that want to explore that diet legitimately.