The Taste Of The Mediterranean

Creating a life that is positively good for you...



Positively Good For YouDr Simon Poole

“Let medicine be thy food, and food be thy medicine”

Peter’s Story


Doctors learn much from their patients. Some years ago I had the privilege of meeting Peter. This book is dedicated to Peter and all those who, like him, seek to enjoy life to the full and who are committed to positive actions to maintain a healthy body and active mind.

I first met Peter one busy Monday morning. His broad smile contrasted with my mood. It seemed that all morning I had been lecturing...

“...try to avoid eating too much fat...”

“ know your diet is probably affecting your Blood Pressure...”

“...I know how hard it is to exercise after a long and tiring day, but your sedentary lifestyle is really not helping your weight...”

I started to imagine my own blood pressure rising as I suspected the slim notes in front of me meant that his records had been lost, but soon realised that this was one of Peter’s rare visits for medical advice.

I cannot recall the reason for the consultation, but he mentioned that he was flying off to Spain later that day. Rather enviously I enquired further into his lifestyle.

It transpired he had bought a property in Spain prior to retirement, and spent half of the year there. He explained with unrestrained enthusiasm how he had undergone a transformation after his brother’s untimely death a few years previously. He had begun by exercising regularly and soon sensed the reward of feeling the “buzz” of physical fitness. A trip to Spain had resulted in a love affair with the Mediterranean cuisine and way of life, culminating in his moving to set up a home in Barcelona.

Peter’s dedication to enjoyment of the abundance of life was complete. He described the olive groves and lemon orchards, the vineyards and the harbour fish markets. With a smile he recalled his first invitation to a neighbour’s farm, where the elderly grandmother had prepared the onions, garlic, peppers, lemon chicken and tomatoes with the local olive oil and herb marinade. And with a twinkle in his eye he parted with the conclusion that he was blessed not only by good health, but that his wife and he were probably closer than they had been throughout their long marriage...

As time has passed, I have come to appreciate the truth in Peter’s words. Of course chance decrees there may always be misfortune and unavoidable illness, but scientific evidence is increasingly demonstrating the astonishing health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle. The wonderful coincidence is that this wholesome, tasty and complete way of life can confer extraordinary health benefits and achieve a longer and healthier experience of being. Even smiling and laughter have been shown scientifically to have positive physical effects.

So the time has come to celebrate those gifts of nature and the possibilities in ourselves to welcome simple changes that will be positively good for us.

Eating to Enjoy

Diet is thought to be a causal or contributing factor in up to half of cancers.

Lifestyle (lack of exercise and dietary habits) is thought to be a direct cause in over fifty percent of heart attacks.

Diet patterns as recommended in this book have been shown scientifically to reduce the risk of “cardiac events” by 76%and to potentially increase life expectancy free from heart disease by an average of nine years.
(ref 1)

In recent years we have become accustomed to negative messages in relation to what we do and eat. We are constantly reminded of the harm food can do to us, whether in relation to fat, alcohol, salt or sugar.

Whilst it is true that obesity is a highly significant health problem in Western culture, there is an over simplistic response in Government advice. The message to eat a “low fat, high carbohydrate” diet is only part of the picture and has been seriously undermined by “fad” diets such as those that promote precisely the reverse i.e. “high fat, low carbohydrate” consumption.

The evidence that is becoming widely accepted confirms that certain types of fat are “positively good for you”, providing protection against heart disease and many types of cancer. These are the Monounsaturated fats contained in olive oil which may be consumed freely as part of a balanced diet where exercise and overall calorie intake ensure that weight remains within recommended limits.

Manufacturers of spreads and margerines have made claims about the benefits of substituting saturated fats with certain polyunsaturated fats in their products but there is increasing evidence that high levels of these “omega 6” polyunsaturated fats decreases the body’s ability to utilise the beneficial “omega 3” polyunsaturated fats found in oily fish, certain nuts and linseed (flaxseed).

Horrible or Healthy?

This confused picture allows retailers to claim health benefits of products where modest changes to processed foods can permit them to be included in a “healthy eating” range when it is merely somewhat reduced in calories or fat.

To illustrate this point there follows a sample of ingredients as recorded on ready made chicken dishes for 2, followed by sponge pudding both of which are sold in the:

“HEALTHY LIVING” section of a leading supermarket;

White rice, water, dehydrated chicken (20%), modified maize starch, salt, tomato ketchup, onion, sugar, red pepper (2%), pasteurised egg, vegetable oil, dried skimmed milk, potato starch, stabiliser, xantham gum, white pepper, pectin, light soy sauce, colour (capsanthin), sweetener (aspartame), chicken stock, duck fat, dextrin, flavourings, chicken skin, maltodextrin, chicken broth, molasses, acidity regulator, lactic acid, potassium sorbate, pork gelatine and caramelised sugar powder.

And for desert;

Water, raspberries(22%), sugar, wheat flour, pasteurised egg, modified maize starch, dextrose, humectant, milk protein, whey powder, wheat starch, disodium diphosphate, calcium phosphate, polyglycerol esters of fatty acids, mono and di-glcerides of fatty acids, rice starch, guar gum, xantham gum, salt and citric acid.

Imagine how that compares with the goodness and taste of a freshly prepared yet simple dish of red onions, yellow peppers, tomatoes, garlic and lemoned chicken pieces fried in extra virgin olive oil. Tossed in herbs and spices, served with wholegrain rice and a glass of good red wine. Followed by a mixture of fresh fruits – pieces of oranges, peaches, strawberries, grapes and plums.

Curing Antioxidants

And of course there is so much more to a diet than simply fat. Not only do we know much more about vitamins and minerals, but the most exciting areas of scientific discovery in the next twenty years will undoubtedly centre around the micronutrients such as “phytochemicals” or so called “bioactive” compounds. This relates to specific ingredients in foods that have the capacity to neutralise harmful oxidating compounds called free radicles that we all produce in our cells and which are believed to be responsible for most cancers and heart disease as well as other disease and ageing.

The Mediterranean Diet

A Farming Field

For some time it has been recognised that populations in Mediterranean countries live longer, healthier lives. This has been shown even in areas that are relatively deprived compared with the wealthier countries of North West Europe. The benefits can be shown if the dietary principles are adopted by people living outside the areas where the diet originates, and also that the health of individuals deteriorates if they stray from their traditional diet and consume processed, high saturated fat diets of Western Europe.

Government and National Health Service advice refers directly to the qualities of the Mediterranean diet, and European Union funding has been allocated to educational initiatives to promote the diet.

International scientific studies continue to demonstrate the evidence, and are beginning to explore the components that might contribute to the advantages. Indeed some producers of vitamins and supplements are already beginning to market pills that claim to confer the same health gains such as garlic capsules or concentrated tomato tablets.

But why pop a pill when you can enjoy the beautiful fresh produce itself? AND RESEARCH IS REPEATEDLY FINDING THAT SUPPLEMENTS DO NOT GIVE THE BENEFITS THAT ARE CLAIMED. The secret lies in the complexity of combination of substances in the whole foods.

How to use this book

Palm Trees

This book is designed to help you change the way you live in a simple and accessible way. To celebrate the goodness of what you eat, enjoy physical fitness and to delight in foods that are “positively good for you”.

The chapters that follow provide examples of how to apply some “whole diet” principles to daily life, and how to incorporate the health advantages in a busy week. Some authors of dietary books include sophisticated recipes and meal menus to guide readers. However, experience shows that such complex and regimental advice is almost impossible to integrate into hectic modern life. Understanding the balance of foods in a diet is far more important than having a list of “fine cuisine” recipes that assumes we have the time and skills to be celebrity chefs! The Mediterranean diet pyramid and the health benefits of many beautifully colourful fresh fruits and vegetables may be brought to our daily lives by simply ensuring that they are included in the weekly shopping list. The nutritional benefits of these gifts of nature is not dependent on whether they are prepared in a simple way or used in a sophisticated combination when there is more time for preparation and reference to cookery books.

There is also some evidence that certain individual foods possess health giving qualities. These so-called “functional foods” have usually been shown to contain chemicals called “antioxidants” and are often common constituents of the Mediterranean diet which protects against cancers and heart disease.

Later chapters are dedicated to these “positively good for you” foods, to celebrate their wonderful properties and taste. Perhaps most importantly there are simple suggestions to help bring them into everyday use in an approachable way.

Ten simple, enjoyable steps to a healthier, longer life... Make an active choice to achieve this!