Mediterranean way is the healthiest way

This busy market in Barcelona, Spain, allows locals to buy fresh fish, produce and other healthy choices for cooking at home.
This busy market in Barcelona, Spain, allows locals to buy fresh fish, produce and other healthy choices for cooking at home.

This summer, my husband and I traveled to Barcelona to visit friends. We have memories of a beautiful, cosmopolitan city. But what will stay with us for a long time is the food and the way they eat, the Mediterranean way -- it's healthy, and it's good for the environment.

Our hostess, Marta, is an excellent cook and she opened our eyes to how it works, namely:

  • Pass on the butter. There was no butter in Marta's house, only olive oil. Try it as a healthy replacement for butter or margarine. Use it in cooking.
  • Spice it up: Use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
  • Make lunch the main meal; have a lighter meal in the evening. We found the Spanish like to eat late, so the lighter meal made sense.
  • Eat fish and poultry at least twice a week. Fresh or canned tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel and herring are healthy choices.
  • Eat lots of veggies and fruits and whole grains. Simply cooked vegetables made up the majority of her meals. Dessert was often fruit.
  • Try to purchase produce in season or grow your own. Switch to whole-grain bread and cereals, and try brown rice and whole-wheat pasta products.
  • Have smaller portions of red meat. Marta's meals were delicious and if she used meat, it was in small quantities with lots of vegetables. She preferred to cook fish or chicken.
  • Research has shown that Mediterranean-style eating is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, lower body mass index, lower blood pressure, better blood sugar control and reduced cholesterol. And while your health is improved, so is the environment.

    Consider the water footprint of food, the amount required to produce it. The livestock industry consumes nearly 10 percent of the world's freshwater resources and 80 percent of farmland is devoted to the production of meat.

    It takes 29 gallons of water to produce one pound of potatoes, 83 gallons for a pound of apples, 155 gallons for a loaf of bread, 467 gallons for a pound of chicken and a whopping 1,859 gallons for a pound of beef.

    Mediterranean-style eating isn't confined to the Mediterranean. Travel to the supermarket or grow your own produce, and make a small change to eating styles to recreate its delicious flavors, fresh tastes and, as added benefit, help conserve natural resources.

    The key to Florida Keys produce

    If you plan to grow your own produce here in the Keys and have room for a raised bed, I have had success with several vegetables, specifically bush beans, which grow quickly and high.

    Kale is very hardy and also grows quickly; romaine lettuce does very well; broccoli and carrots need deep soil.

    If your space is limited, then try tomato plants, bell peppers, hot peppers, radishes, basil and parsley -- all grow very well in containers. Those vegetables also do well in raised beds.

    Remember that our dirt is low in nutrients so it needs to be supplemented with a good, natural fertilizer. I recommend homemade compost or, if that is not available, purchase cow manure from the local garden supply or hardware store.

    To ensure your hard work is not wasted and eaten by neighborhood iguanas, it is important to screen or block off young seedlings with any means possible; just be sure light can get to the plants.

    Growing season here in the Keys begins around the end of October when the summer heat has waned and extends to April, possibly May depending on how long the cooler temperatures last.

    The results will be worthwhile once you taste and smell your homegrown produce and can incorporate it into your Mediterranean-style eating.