The Mediterranean Diet

There are many reports on the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. It’s one of the most recommended diets for its ability to reduce the risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, certain types of cancer, as well as to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia especially vascular dementia. See link from Harvard Health newsletter, A Practical Guide to the Mediterranean Diet.

With it’s emphasize on plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes which are minimally processed, seasonally fresh and locally grown, olive oil as the principal source of fat, fish and poultry instead of red meat, cheese, yogurt and wine in low to moderate amounts, and fresh fruit for dessert, with limited sweets, it sounds like a healthy way to eat.

And then there’s the whole Mediterranean thing…because of course the traditional Mediterranean diet is based on foods available in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.…where the sun shines and life is la dolce vita. (less stress, less inflammation)  But I live in Canada, where it’s cold half the year and hearty meals abound. Things like chili and chicken pot pie have been staples on my diet this winter but does my latest favorite dish, chicken and mushroom crepes, count as the French Rivera is on the Mediterranean?

Italian Villa – 2015 – one of my mother’s paintings

Still the Mediterranean diet is something I aspire to, if only in the frozen food aisle.

Not crazy about edamame= green soybeans
This was surprisingly good for a ready-to-serve lentil soup, but does the sodium content cancel out any benefit?

So it was some anticipation that I read Debbie Travis’s latest book Joy – Life Lessons from a Tuscan Villa.  (You knew there was going to be a book in here somewhere.)

I was only vaguely aware of Debbie Travis (a decorating guru and pioneer of painting techniques) and I don’t usually read lifestyle books, (she’s written eleven), but it had a pretty cover and gorgeous pictures of the 13th century villa she restored over five years and now rents out for relaxing retreats.

Here’s a link to the Villa Reniella, should you have some extra cash to spare. It was hard to figure out the pricing, as while googling I saw various listings in different currencies, but they were all expensive.

There was a time in my life when the idea of a week at such a place would have seemed wonderfully idyllic.  Now I’d probably be bored. My retirement life is already pretty low stress.  Yoga looking out over a row of Cypress trees is still yoga and I hate yoga. 

Stairway to Tuscany – 2018

And I have no desire to stay in a room which was previously a pigsty – wouldn’t it still reek of pigs?   According to the book, the family stays in the original three story villa, but there are 12 individual well-appointed Porcilaia suites for rent, plus a renovated horse barn.  

Only a rich celebrity would buy a run-down villa with livestock living on the ground floor and no running water – the village turned it off 30 times before they dug a well. The original building was surrounded by pigsties that were transformed into suites, each with its own private entrance and garden.  Not to mention the 1200 olive trees which needed pruning and harvesting, an old non-productive vineyard and nightly battles with a herd of wild boor.  She only mentions these in passing, and also introduces us to the previous owner (an elderly Tuscan man who surely must be laughing all the way to the bank), but I would have been more interested in reading about her experiences renovating the place than perusing a bunch of stylized photos of food I’m probably never going to make nor have any desire to eat.  I don’t even like the taste of olive oil. (Edited to add – apparently there is a six episode series on youtube – La Dolce Debbie – for those who would prefer a documentary about the renovations. I have not watched it yet but here’s the link.) (April 21 – edited to add – I watched it and found it very enjoyable but it must have cost them a fortune – I highly recommend it if you’d prefer a visual tour!)

There’s a section on the villa’s extensive kitchen garden, which produces a multitude of herbs and vegetables with accompanying recipes.  Kale, artichokes, beets, (no), leeks, peas, asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes, radicchio (yes), zucchini (boring), fava beans, eggplant, celeriac (never tried them).    

My own kitchen garden will be coming soon…it’s so much easier to eat healthy in the summer.

I found the book entertaining but also very light and fluffy – it’s certainly no Under the Tuscan Sun. I wonder though if the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet can be partially attributed to a different lifestyle, and the book does give us a peek into the Tuscan way of life with their emphasize on family and socializing, their coffee culture, aperitivos (pre-dinner drinks and nibbles) and the Passeggiata – a long promenade before dinner.  Yes, I could see myself strolling around the village square with a glass of Prosecco in hand…a good way to get those steps in, if you don’t drink too much and stumble over the cobblestones. Plus, any country whose shuttered shops and businesses allow you to take a long afternoon nap has my vote. Perhaps they are just healthier because they get more sleep?    

There were lots of recipes and pretty pictures of food, most of which I would probably not make because I’m not big on quinoa, chickpeas or legumes for my protein.  The Limoncella recipe sounded interesting, as I always wanted to have a lemon tree, although not necessarily a whole grove.  I like pasta and tomatoes occasionally, but she assures us the pasta (with fibre-rich grains, obesity is rare) and tomatoes taste different there, and their bruschetta is made with their own sun-ripened tomatoes.   If anyone wants to lend me five thousand pounds, so I could find out, I believe this may require more research…..maybe in June during the Classic Car Rally? Now driving a vintage car around the scenic hills of Tuscany sounds like my kind of retreat.

PS.   In the meantime Stanley Tucci’s – Season Two of Searching for Italy starts Sunday May 1 on CNN.   I believe he is eating his way through Venice and Umbria.

Tuscan Farmhouse – 2015 – one of my mother’s paintings
The March Hare boycotting the Mediterranean diet….and I even added carrots? Maybe he is waiting for the chocolate? Happy Easter Bunny!

39 thoughts on “The Mediterranean Diet

  1. ruthsoaper says:

    I think I would enjoy reading about and seeing pictures of the renovations more than the foods as well. When I read about the Mediterranean diet it seemed like the socialization was a big part of it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Joni says:

      Yes, socialization seems to be a big part, and it’s healthier to cook everything from scratch, but I’m so tired of cooking that I’ve resorted to take-out lately. It’s much easier to eat healthier in the summer, as you well know from your extensive vegetable garden!

      Liked by 1 person

      • ruthsoaper says:

        When my Italian father-in-law stayed with us for 6 weeks we saw how important that socialization was to him. When he was awake he always wanted to be talking to someone it seemed. I’m not much of a conversationalist and my husband enjoys reading. His dad was very disappointed that we didn’t have much company. He would spend hours in the evenings calling his friends just to talk. As soon as he was well enough he decided to go back home. I think we were to boring for him.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Eilene Lyon says:

    This was an amusing read. I like olive oil and grow beets in my garden, but you won’t find me pursuing a Mediterranean diet. I hate olives, actually! Your mother’s paintings are delightful – did she visit Tuscany?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Eilene! I like olives, but they’re high in salt. No, and neither have I, but it’s on my list for someday. She just painted them from photos, but with the Stairway to Tuscany one, she had the proportion off, so I named it that.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. www.rosesintherainmemoir.wordpress.com says:

    I rather like the idea of Mediterranean eating — and do cook and eat that way — but I agree it’s much easier to do in summer and fall. I’m glad you provided the link to La Dolce Debbie, however, as I’m BIG on stories about interiors as well as gardens. I’ll check it out but not tonight. It’s getting on bedtime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I don’t like to cook with olive oil as I find it tastes funny, I prefer butter, and I don’t use a lot of herbs, and some of the ones which are so popular like basil and oregano, I just do not like. I guess I like my food plain. It does sound like an interesting mini-series – I plan on watching it sometimes too – it’s about 3 hours I think? It looks like a nice place to visit if you have the money, but I don’t see any traveling in my future for a long time.

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  4. Kate Crimmins says:

    I like eating healthy but not by following current trends. I don’t like the weird grains or a ton of fish. Keeping it simple works for me and it’s way easier to eat healthy in the summer when tomatoes taste like…well…tomatoes!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ally Bean says:

    First I like your mother’s paintings. I especially love Italian Villa. Lovely

    As for the Mediterranean diet I am all for it in theory. I like the idea of eating like a rich carefree Italian, living in my beautiful villa, dining on the bounty of the sea and land around me. Then I look out the window and remember where I am in this world, and head on over to Kroger. 🙄

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dave says:

    To your point Joni, I think the Mediterranean diet is difficult to adopt because a) most of us don’t have easy access to its staples, and b) we’re conditioned to the many more-convenient and better-tasting alternatives around us. Having said that, I love olives (and the oil), and a glass of wine every now and then is divine. But cheese, there’s my downfall. Can’t subscribe to any diet without cheese.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      So true. McDonalds tastes much better than a bowl of boring quinoa. Strangely I like olives but not olive oil – it always tastes funny to me, no matter how high the quality. I grew up on butter, salted butter. In an effort to follow the diet though I’m going to look for that gelato you posted about yesterday!

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  7. Linda Schaub says:

    As I am not much of a cook, I’ve never cooked with olive oil and I think it would make things greasy tasting. I’m not big on olives, green or black, either and for the same reason as you – they are salty. I try to stay away from salt if I can. I follow this diet somewhat in that I don’t eat red meat anymore, just fish and chicken and I do have fruits and veggies but mostly canned – I used frozen more when I could use the stove. But I’m not about the wine – of course, living in the area you would subscribe to their way of life and opt for your heavier meal mid-day, not at night as we are accustomed to and maybe get accustomed to wine with your meal. When I visited Spain with friends of the family back in 1994, we stayed with their family one week, then traveled for two weeks. It was Summertime and yes, they shut down everything in the afternoon. They ate their big meal and sometimes had a nap, but businesses were not open during this two-or-three-hour time period (kind of like siesta time). We ate our big meal of the day mid-day and had a glass of wine and followed by fruit and cheese, then walked it off sightseeing or just walking. Even the kids (under ten) had a wine spritzer, something that amazed me. That diet is the way to go health-wise, but we can’t all do that unfortunately. You did well with your lettuce crops last year. That lentil soup looks good. Do you have Amy’s soups in Canada Joni? I bought Amy’s Low-Sodium Lentil – it is very tasty and good for you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      I’ve never seen Amy’s soups here, although there are different brands in the gluten free aisle, but much more expensive. I find most gluten free items awful tasting. We don’t have as much variety of brands as you do. The Tim Hortons soup was okay, but it was the tomato broth base I enjoyed, more than the lentils.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I don’t mind lentil soup and used to buy Progresso as they have good deals at Meijer (5 for $5.00 sometimes), but they are all very watery. Amy’s soups are thick and I just looked and they are gluten-free. I don’t follow a gluten-free diet, so didn’t know, but their soups are: “gluten free, dairy free, soy free, corn free, tree nut free, vegan and certified kosher.” They are tasty which is surprising since they are so “-free” with the ingredients. Amy’s has other foods like “bowls” – I have only tried the soups.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Linda Schaub says:

    In my long comment, I forgot to mention your mom’s Tuscan-inspired paintings, all which I liked. They were perfect to go with this post. Mom must have a lot of paintings she’s done as you often can pair one painting or more to your blog topic. Especially the Italian villa is how I picture Italy – hope we both get a chance to visit one day and hope where we stay would be cleaner than the one converted from pigsties.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks Linda….I’m going to watch the six part mini-series on youtube some night and check it out. I’m sure they are lovely, but just the idea of a pigsty would turn me off. My dad kept pigs, but only one year as the smell was awful….and lingered. Yuck. PS. I’m sure we will get there someday….when covid is over, which Dr. Fauci says we will be living with for awhile longer as we will never achieve herd immunity, but hopefully they will have better vaccines some day.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        The paintings are what I’d imagine it looks like there. I hope we do get there one day Joni, if we end up in an endemic, or thereafter. I won’t feel safe to be honest. I was a bit of a germaphobe before COVID and now am worse. Are you getting the PBS e-mails now – I keep forgetting to ask you. The only one I got recently was Sanditon (sp?) and I know you were following it. Oh and something to vote for a “webby” for ACG&S. I didn’t do it – it is in my e-mail still – have until 04/30. I have to unsubscribe to things I subscribed to but will keep PBS so I know the scoop on ACG&S for us for 2023 episodes. Yes, pigs wallow in mud and their own dirt. I remember my mom saying her great grandfather had them on his farm years and years ago. He had a farm in Ariss, near Guelph.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        The last few nights I watched the six part youtube minseries La Dolce Debbie on youtube, regarding her renovating the villa….I really enjoyed it – it was so beautiful and so was the countryside. But I still thing she must have sunk a fortune into it, hope she sells enough to get her money back. It was about $7000 a week to stay there plus your air fare. She did make a joke about the pig smell, but the decor was gorgeous. I don’t seem to get the PBS emails, despite signing up, but watched Saniton – it’s been okay, better than last year, next week is the finale. I think it’s been renewed for another season? Re traveling – I think there was a U.S. decision today by a Florida judge that masks on planes are no longer mandatory? Disregard my gmail to you re deleting your mail, as I was able to read it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I will just forward the PBS e-mails to you again like before then. That does sound interesting about the villa and that’s a lot to spend on renovating it and hopefully the story about the pigs does not get around as it may hurt business. Yes, now people don’t have to wear masks on planes and my news station was interviewing passengers who were ecstatic about it. A few said “no, it’s too close quarters to go maskless yet.” There is going to be a spike in cases already from Spring Break, the Easter/Passover/Ramadan holidays. Now I wish I had kept my second booster shot appointment for last Monday, the 11th. I cancelled it as I thought I’d go in a month or so, but then cases were on the rise again. I now go tomorrow for the 2nd booster. It is a half-dose of Moderna (like the 1st booster). As to boosters, Moderna does half-doses; Pfizer full doses. I heard on the news this morning that Moderna want to roll out a vaccine this Fall that incorporates Omicron and all variants in the vaccine and they’ve been working on it for a while. I will send that story as a separate comment. I still owe you a response to your first e-mail. I’m still behind in Reader. Will try to take a stab at finishing tonight.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        No, it is no problem Joni – I should have asked you if you were getting them before now. I’m actually going to bed now – can’t keep my eyes open. I got caught up three days so current to 24 hours ago. I did get out this morning – all the fresh air.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        Thanks! That’s good. No dates for May yet for boosters here – mom has to wait until 5 months after the first booster, which will be after May 10, and I will be even later than that, as they are doing over 80’s first. The health unit doesn’t release clinic dates that far in advance, only for the current month of April, for which she is not yet eligible.

        Like

      • Linda Schaub says:

        I thought you would be interested to read this – it has been in the works awhile and I wonder if this will be like our yearly flu shot? I hope you both can get your boosters as soon as they get them and set up clinic dates.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. indianeskitchen says:

    It is definitely easier eating healthy in the summer Joni. I can’t eat the hot house tomatoes, shipped in fruits and vegetables otherwise. I don’t mind frozen or canned in the winter. There is nothing better than fresh veggies from your own garden. As you know the way I cook, I would not be a good candidate for the Mediterranean diet. 😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      Thanks! I will pass the compliment along. The villa one and the Tuscan farmhouse are two of my favorites. I just finished watching La Dolce Debbie – the six episode mini-series on youtube (3 hours total) and enjoyed it so much better than the book! The book is nice, but I find those lifestyle books too perfect, and lots of recipes. She could easily have filmed another ten hours. The villa was quite a dump, but gorgeous at the end, so they must have sunk a fortune into it. The infinity pool was amazing. And the countryside was so beautiful. You would enjoy it, having been there and it being so close to Florence…..I think an hour’s drive? Debbie Travis may be Canadian, but I don’t watch reno/decorating shows, but she seems very personable. Her husband said they sunk most of their savings into the villa, and I can see how.

      Liked by 1 person

      • brilliantviewpoint says:

        Joni – thanks for the review of the Youtube show. I definitely would like to watch it. I will look her up. Do you know what town her Villa is in? I think someone else had given the link to the Youtube show. Need to look for it. THANKS

        Liked by 1 person

      • Joni says:

        I can’t remember the name of the town but she mentions it a few times in the video – Monitcello? or something like that. I put the link to the video in my blog, or you can search under La Dolce Debbie and it should come up as six 30 minute episodes. It is from 2016, but in the book (2022) she says she has a business partner now, so I wonder if it wasn’t quite what she expected or she’s just someone who enoys the doing/renovating part and then moves on? And now with COVID I suspect not as much profit. I tried to do the math, as I am an analytical person, and it would work if they were full most of the time.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. J P says:

    Someone once told me that “villa” is Italian for small but expensive. I have always admired people with the vision to turn a dump into a villa, but I am not one of them.

    We cook with olive oil quite a bit but I refuse to bake with it because the savory flavor is intrusive.

    Maybe I should write a diet book that combines the parts of various diets I like. Olives from Mediterranean, red meat and cheese from Adkins, and lots of ice cream from, well, I don’t know. It won’t make you healthier but it will certainly boost the quality of whatever life you have left. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joni says:

      HA! That diet would make a good blog post! True, there’s that aspect that you have to enjoy the food you eating. I guess the key is moderation. I find olive oil permeates the taste of everything it’s cooked in, even the olive oil cooking spray that is just a touch to grease a pan – give me butter please.
      Ha re the villa too! I watched the youtube miniseries of the renovation and really enjoyed it – more so than the book. It’s six – 30min episodes, the first with her husband driving around Tuscany looking for a property to buy. The place was a dump when they bought it – and she does make a joke about the smell of the pigsties. They must have sunk a fortune into it, but it was beautiful at the end. Marianne might enjoy watching it. Here’s the link:
      https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAezO80FUCJ5FcwTuz6fe0Egg8DuYUjLp It could be a retirement project for you!

      Liked by 1 person

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