By now everyone has heard the Mediterranean diet is found to be the healthiest but it is Spain’s Mediterranean version that promotes longest life expectancy. The most recent study published in 2013 by The Lancet, not only placed the Spaniards as the longest living in Europe but the country also beat Australia, Canada, Norway and the U.S.
In order to calculate life expectancy, researches are charged with examining death certificates. Age, race and gender are incorporated with other data to find national population’s life expectancy. Lifestyle and social systems also play a beneficial role. The World Health Organization ranked Spain number seven for the healthcare system in place. While the actual infrastructure is important, how people arrive to the hospital should also be considered. Spanish people are arriving to the hospital healthier as a result of the Mediterranean diet.
The vast Mediterranean Sea is home to many countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Larger similarities in food exist between countries closer to each other. The Spanish diet is more similar to the Moroccan while the Greek diet is similar to the Turkish. Comparing the Mediterranean diet in Egypt to food consumed in Spain would produce an abundance of differences. However, there are common factors such as higher intake of fish and olive oil.
Spaniards are the foodies of Europe. They spend more per head than any other nation, which is a shocking statistic when considering how inexpensive food is in comparison. Also, their relationship with food is more open. Spaniards do not obsess over calorie intake and low fat alternatives. The obesity epidemic does not exist in Spain either. This could be attributed to the mass market of Western food that has not yet penetrated Spain. While it is possible to find a burger in any city, the majority of the food in Spain remains rigidly traditional. Furthermore, chefs in the north of Spain are renowned for their cuisine. San Sebastian has more Michelin stars per square meter than any other city in the world.
The Spanish Mediterranean diet consists of fruits, vegetables, cereal grains, olive oil, seafood, nuts and wine, which are Spain’s traditional agricultural products.
Across the country, there are different regional varieties consumed. The north experiences heavy winters and the meals tend to be heartier with steaming broths and rich stews. The southern diet is typically lighter since the weather is warmer. For this reason, the cuisine of southern Andalucía will be explored.
Sweet and savory foods are consumed for breakfast. Churros are the sweetest and most popular option.
The fried dough is rolled in sugar and served with a warm mug of hot chocolate. This is more common if you grab breakfast from a local cafe, a normal practice of Spaniards even on weekdays. Toasted bread topped with olive oil, garlic, Serrano ham or fresh tomatoes are among the savory options available.
The Spanish Mediterranean lunch is the most important meal and the longest affair. Despite an influx of foreign businesses and their practices, this still remains indigenous and unchanged.
Typically, Spaniards enjoy a three-course meal consisting of soup, tortilla, meat, rice, vegetables and then fruit for desert. Wine and water are enjoyed during the meal with coffee served at the end.
The soup offered the majority of the year is Gazpacho. It is a cold, tomato based soup blended with other vegetables such as bell peppers, onions, cucumbers, garlic and olive oil. Spaniards drink it in a glass or eat it from a bowl.
Paella is the most popular for lunch and considered so filling by Spaniards that they customarily do not eat it for dinner. Only tourists are found consuming paella in the evenings. There are different variations of paella but the base remains the same consistency of white rice, green vegetables, peppers, beans and seasoning. The variants are then created with the inclusion of either meat from land such as rabbit, chicken or duck or the seafood option including calamari, mussels, fish and shrimp.
Spaniards eat late, very late, where dinner begins at 10pm and can last until midnight even on weekdays. It is not uncommon to see an entire family in a restaurant with their kids very late in the evening.
The Spanish Mediterranean dinner is lighter than the long and heavy lunch. Quite often it is just tapas, or Spanish appetizers. Tapas are served hot and cold. It is usual for Spaniards to order various types of tapas and consider the combination a full meal. Tapas typically accompany beer or wine and encourage conversation because nobody is focused on sitting down and eating an entire meal. Often times, people enjoy tapas and drinks from more than one restaurant in the same evening.
At home, the Spanish dinner diet is simpler and smaller. Cuisine could include fresh seafood, chicken or lamb combined with a vegetable and rice or potatoes.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development also ranked European countries and found Spain below average for household income, employment, education, literacy, math and science, air pollution and water quality. By contrast, they ranked above average in life expectancy and good health despite smoking more than average. The Spanish style Mediterranean diet is serving the population well and allowing them to live the longest in Europe as well as longer than most parts of the world.
By Cayce Manesiotis