May is International Mediterranean Diet Month

Celebrating the dietary lifestyle and wide ranging health benefits associated with the foods originating from that part of the world, May is International Mediterranean Diet Month. This May salute to the Mediterranean Diet was created in 2009 by Oldways, a not-for-profit dating back the the 1990s.

Mediterranean diet
Photo courtesy of Upsplash:
What is the Mediterranean Diet
More of a dietary lifestyle or way of eating than what we often refer to as a “diet,” the Mediterranean Diet is built on the following pillars: daily consumption of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, healthy fats (from food items such as nuts and avocados), and weekly consumption of fish, poultry, eggs and beans. There is limited consumption of red meat and daily products.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “interest in the Mediterranean diet began in the 1960s with the observation that coronary heart disease caused fewer deaths in Mediterranean countries, such as Greece and Italy, than in the U.S. and northern Europe.”  Mayo Clinic studies also tell us that “the Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced risk factors for cardiovascular disease and is one of the healthy eating plans recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to promote health and prevent chronic disease.”

The Mediterranean Diet

Tunisia embraces the Mediterranean Diet

One location in the Mediterranean that is representative of the Mediterranean Diet is the tiny country of Tunisia in Northern Africa.  Here, the cuisine’s distinctive spiciness can be attributed to the many civilizations which have left their mark on this Mediterranean country: Berber, Phoenician, Arab, Jewish, Turkish as well as Roman and French civilizations that have been passed recipes down from generation to generation, from mother to daughter by word of mouth.

Strongly influenced by its geographic location and the passage of diverse civilizations, each region of Tunisia has its own unique recipes reflecting the ingredients found there.  On the coasts, fish, and vegetables reign supreme. In the center and south of Tunisia, grains and meats take center stage.  From the Borzgen couscous of the Kef area to lamb from Beja. The common denominator in all is their colorful, fragrant, and varied spices.  Tabel, the magic mixture of spices most frequently used includes ground coriander seeds, caraway seeds, garlic and chile powders.  Cumin, mint, laurel cloves or turmeric are often added.

“Tunisian cuisine is a wonderful mixture of local natural ingredients, influenced also by the Italian and French,” said Cindy Hoddeson, Board member of the Wellness Tourism Association. “One of the principles of wellness tourism is the inclusion of healthy food.  Tunisia is a land offering a diet rich in flavors good for the body and soul.”

Typical Dishes of Tunisia

Fricassé  – tiny sandwich with tuna, harissa, olives, eggs, and olive oil.
Label abi – rich garlicky soup made with chickpeas (other ingredients such as tuna, eggs, harissa, and cubes of bread can also be included)
Couscous – the national dish prepared in many different ways and made from small durum semolina balls that are crushed and steamed.
Seafood– whole fish are prepared and fire-grilled but can be fried or sautéed topped with lemon juice, sea salt and parsley.

Here are healthy recipes in keeping with the Mediterranean Diet philosophy.