Mediterranean diet: More than just eating

 26 Nov 2017 - 10:22

Mediterranean diet: More than just eating
Pics: Qassim Rahmatullah/The Peninsula

By Raynald C Rivera / The Peninsula

High life expectancy and low risk of heart disease are two of the many benefits associated with Mediterranean diet. No wonder most major scientific organisations around the world recommend following it for a healthy life free from chronic diseases.

“It is essential to eat well before getting sick, instead of starting to eat well when you are already sick,” Professor Giorgio Calabrese (pictured below), an acclaimed Italian food science expert and writer, has stressed in an exclusive interview with The Peninsula.

There had been a plethora of scientific studies conducted on the benefits Mediterranean diet, one of which is the Seven Countries Study which explored the relationship between diet and lifestyle and cardiovascular disease. It has shown that countries with the Mediterranean diet like Greece and Italy had a lower risk of coronary heart disease.

A well-known proponent of Mediterranean diet, Calabrese stressed health and lifestyle can be improved through proper diet. Coming from a country with one of the highest life expectancy rates in the world, he said there’s a strong link between good diet, in this sense Mediterranean style, with good health and long life.

Common in a Mediterranean diet are fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and locally sourced olive oil.

Calabrese, who was in Qatar for the ongoing Italian Week visiting a number of institutions like Aspire and Aspetar and giving a presentation at a seminar, observed a striking similarity between Mediterranean and Qatari diet.

“While talking to experts in Aspire Academy, I came to know that protein, carbohydrates and fats and the balance of animal and vegetable protein as well as simple and complex carbohydrates, and saturated an unsaturated fats are the same,” he noted.

He was fascinated of the fact that “two different countries which are far away geographically speaking are so close when we talk about diet and food.” Thus, Qatar is in the right way to live a long life like Italy and Japan, he added.

Avoiding fried meat and fish and genetically modified food while eating more fruits and vegetables are among the things Calabrese suggested for a healthy and long life.

“Pasta and rice are not consumed only to fill our tummy but because we need energy. Fruits and vegetables are not essential three times a day but have to be introduced five times a day as we do in Italy. It is not healthy to focus daily calorie intake only during breakfast and dinner; we need to divide calories intake among five meals,” he advised.

He also emphasised preferring extra virgin olive oil, which is a main element of daily Italian Mediterranean diet, over canola oil since it is very useful in cleansing the body and the arteries.

Currently Chair of the National Food Safety Committee (CNSA) and founder of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Calabrese said poor countries will have great potential and work opportunities with a healthy population who follows the Mediterranean diet.

As the official dietician of Juventus FC football team, he designed a Mediterranean style diet which helped the club in winning their games around the world.

He said the quality of the food is in a way affected by the country where they are sourced from and that with the current geopolitical situation in Qatar, he suggested to import food from healthy countries like Italy.

“Very often, the same food-for example vegetables-if they come from a country which is healthy, it’s healthy for your body. If it is imported from a country which is not healthy the same food can have a different effect in your body,” he said.

Mediterranean diet is more than just a diet, but a way of life and as to his advice on how people can achieve a healthy lifestyle, he said: “The northern part of Italy is the richest but is the one that doesn’t eat properly while the southern part of Italy is the poorer one but they eat healthy and follow a proper diet. My advice is you have to act like rich people spending money on good food, but eat properly like the people in the south. So you will live with money in your pocket and a long life, which is a good combination,” he ended.

One of the most sought-after guest in TV programmes in Italy, Professor Giorgio Calabrese has authored works which have been published nationally and internationally and participated in many international congresses as an invited speaker.

At a recent seminar held in Katara, Calabrese discussed intensively on the relation between Mediterranean diet and sport performance. He spoke in detail the difference between various kinds of sports and how diet differs based on the type of sport.

The ‘Seminar on the Mediterranean Diet, Sport and Nutrition: The Italian Experience’ held at the Cultural Village Foundation – Katara gathered a panel of Italian experts speaking on the numerous advantages of following the Mediterranean diet.

“The Mediterranean diet, which is more than just a diet but a way of eating and living, is impacting both menu and flavour trends worldwide. The simplicity, freshness, vibrant colours and overall health benefits of the Mediterranean eating has the world wanting to know and eat more,” said Italian Ambassador Pasquale Salzano, stressing that Mediterranean-style diet has proven to improve health and nutrition.

Ambassador Salzano also highlighted Mediterranean diet, which in 2010 was inscribed in the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, had also been recognised as a sustainable diet because of its lower environmental impact.

“The Mediterranean diet represents a sustainable style of living based on eating genuine products in a convivial setting with your friends and family. This is a common feature of the Italian and Qatari culture. We share the same values of family-centred society whereby consuming special dishes together strengthen our community,” the Italian envoy said.

Qatari people are increasingly enjoying authentic Italian food, the Mediterranean diet which is tastier and healthier. Qatar is one of the few nations in the world hosting a National Sports Day. This is the sign of the care of the Qatari leadership for the promotion of a healthy society,” he said.