Mangiare per vivere e non vivere per mangiare.
Translation from the Italian: Eat to live and not live to eat.
This quotation is one I have debated with my Italian brother-in-law Davide. He is my charming and much loved “partner in crime”, while traveling on our southern Mediterranean eating adventures. Davide prefers to say the reverse, that he “lives to eat”! You will have to trust your humble correspondent when I say that Davide is indeed an expert on the delightful southern Mediterranean cuisine! He embodies everything that is good about the pleasure of growing, buying, preparing and cooking these healthy Mediterranean delicacies. More about this in a moment.
I often refer to my Memory Matters Brain Boosters experience. Ten weekly sessions crammed full of interesting facts and brain exercises leaving knowledge to ponder a lifetime.
In this blog I have often referred to physical fitness, good sleep patterns, brain exercise and nutrition. This particular blog is all about nutrition.
When our Memory Care Specialists lead the Brain Boosters program there is one complete section dedicated to nutrition. It is a lifestyle choice that can have a huge impact on brain health. For example, getting started each day with a healthy breakfast is very important. It increases blood sugar level and helps maintain mental clarity throughout the day. Conversely, low blood sugar interferes with brain functioning. So if you have special diet restrictions, take them seriously.
There is an old Italian saying that says: “He who would live long must sometimes change his way of living”
It has long been noted that people who live in the southern Mediterranean generally live healthier lives and live longer than those in northern Europe and the USA. A number of scientists and researchers have studied this concept and the most famous case in point is the Ikaria Greece study.
But what is the Mediterranean diet? Briefly it consists of many “healthy” foods, including, but not limited to, seafood, poultry, fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, seeds and healthy fats like olive oil. There are some dairy foods included, but red meats, processed foods, snacks and deserts are downplayed. Pity because I love Tiramisu! Ah! But wine in moderation is included in the Mediterranean diet!
The Mediterranean diet is not necessarily low-fat. It does emphasize healthy fats like Omega 3 found in many fish. e.g Salmon and Tuna.
Grains and Legumes are at the foundation. There are so many to choose from and my friend Davide prepares them in so many delightful ways. Similarly fresh fruit and vegetables such as avocado, apples, strawberries, figs, fennel, carrots, fava (broad) beans and onions just to name a few.
Olive oil minimizes the use of saturated fats, and dairy products such as feta cheese and Greek yogurts are frequently included in the southern Mediterranean diet.
One last point learned at Brain Boosters is the use of spices and herbs. Spices such as tumeric adds flavor but it also may help boost the health of your brain.
Wherever possible Memory Matters is intentionally offering our Club Members, families and volunteers a Mediterranean lunch diet. Our two caterers are working with us to provide, healthy but tasty meals. For example: delicious tuna sandwiches on whole-grain bread, served with fruit.
The lessons from Ikaria Greece are most interesting and I will append just one article here for you to read. It was published in the New York Times Magazine in 2012 but there are many others to be found in a google search.
In summary, Ikarians eat a variation of the Mediterranean diet which consists of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and a little fish. One item featured is the local wild greens, many of which have ten times the level of antioxidants in green tea or red wine!
The New York Times article is entitled “The Island Where People Forget to Die”! It starts by telling the story of an Ickarian immigrant who while living in America, finds he has terminal lung cancer and returns to Ikaria to peacefully die. He never took chemotherapy but lived to 100 years, although his actual age is in doubt!
It concludes that in the 99 square mile island of Ikaria that their men are four times as likely as their American counterparts to reach an age of 90. But also they were living 8 to 10 years longer before succumbing to cancer or heart problems, AND there was less incidence of depression and dementia. On Ikaria people seem to avoid Alzheimer’s and other dementias!
Two weeks ago I focussed on good sleep patterns. Well, it appears that on Ikaria and other parts of Greece following research there was evidence to suggest that physical exercise and good nutrition combined with relaxing sleep (including naps) reduced the incidence coronary disease by a significant percentage.
Please do read the NYT article to the end. It has one of the best “punch lines” I have ever read! Don’t spoil the story be peeking early! Promise? You too want to live to 100? Right? You have plenty of time to read the story!
Now let me go back to where I started this story and the debate with Davide. He agrees generally with the quotation’s intent “Eat to live (longer and healthier) rather than live to eat” (shorter and troubled). However, in reality he sees nutrition as just one component of a healthy and trouble free longer life, and I agree.
So Davide “lives to eat” and when I am happily in his warm company, I have realized that I do too! Here are the articulated thoughts of someone well educated (and experienced!) in eating well. To Davide, eating well, means eating tasteful food that mirrors these thoughts:
- It is qualitative, fresh, organic, and cooked with care and attention for the properties of the ingredients, attention for the balance of flavour and harmony of the ingredients.
- Recipes are mostly simple, condiments are basic and natural (as much as possible).
- Use of locally sourced and seasonal vegetables and fruits are essential parameters, whenever possible.
- Seasons play a big part: you eat products available in a given season and others in another season, as much as you can.
- Locations play an important part too: temperatures, humidity, elevation (mountain, seaside, countryside etc..) and you determine the products available and their nutritional parameters (example: in winter in the mountain you would eat richer food than say in summer at the seaside).
- Earthly and not processed (or lightly processed) food, with little chemical manipulation, with mostly vegetables and fruits. These are key elements of a daily consumption, as are meats from organically fed animals, and simple foods rich in Omega 3, including non-farmed fish like sardines, anchovies, mackerels.
What you learn today directly from Davide is that eating in the southern Mediterranean is a pleasure! It is NOT a healthy obligation! People tend to eat as described above and frequent the local suppliers and farmers shops.
So these people become very selective, very hard to satisfy, very picky and therefore “organically conscious” hedonists! But Davide is more than just a pleasure seeking hedonist. I refuse to call him that!
So whether you subscribe to the “eat to live” or “live to eat” alternative quotation there is something to be learned from my dear “Italian partner in crime”.
May he live forever!
Please share this if you believe it would help someone. Call 1 843 842 6688 Memory Matters office for more information. It’s always confidential. Consider joining our next Brain Boosters program. We are a phone call away here in your local community.