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The benefits of the Mediterranean diet have long been preached by chefs, health gurus and those lucky enough to live along the beloved sun-drenched coast. Rich in vegetables, legumes, fish and unsaturated fats like olive oil, the diet has for decades been linked with good health by the likes of the NHS and the World Health Organisation.
But the allure of the Mediterranean diet extends beyond its health credentials and its classic, unbeatable flavours. New research conducted by Spain’s Universitat Oberta de Catalunya and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona gives us a clue as to why. Through extensive interviews with families, researchers uncovered one of the more unsuspecting aspects of the Mediterranean diet: the social element.
Families that ate together while sitting around a table – phones firmly in pockets and TVs switched off – reaped more health benefits than those that dined alone, staring at screens. And in fact, when families devoted less time to shared meals, they were also found to follow the Mediterranean diet to a lesser extent.
Researcher Anna Bach-Faig said the Mediterranean diet is “much more than a list of foods. It is a cultural model which includes how these foods are selected, produced, processed and consumed.” This isn’t the first time that Mediterranean cuisine’s vast cultural impact has been assessed. In 2013, the United Nations agency Unesco recognised the Mediterranean diet on a list of the “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” – and in doing so, noted that eating together was one of its foundational elements.
As we exit lockdown in the UK, and warmer weather brings opportunities for dining in Covid-safe al fresco fashion, there is likely to be a renewed focus on this more sociable style of eating. Fine food retailers have the distinct role of not only selling food and drink, but also selling experiences and joyful moments that are best enjoyed in company. Take a page from the Italians’ book and promote togetherness alongside your products this spring and summer. “A healthy diet is not just what we eat but also how we eat it”, Anna said – and we couldn’t agree more.
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