How Mediterranean Diet Family Meals Bring Health to an Unhealthy World
“About 11 million deaths a year are linked to poor diet around the globe.”
The qualitative study:
A team of researchers from Barcelona’s Open University of Catalonia published a remarkable study in the March 3, 2021, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. They took on a little-researched question of the benefits of family meals around a predominantly healthy Mediterranean diet.
To learn whether the Mediterranean diet tradition of sharing in family meals positively impacted 12- to 16-year olds. And, if so, did it affect their decision to continue with a Mediterranean diet?
Each family agreed to do 12 interviews and complete questionnaires on family meals and food frequency. The researchers analyzed food patterns and digital meal photos to determine eating habits and meal ingredients.
The research concluded that “… parents believed family meals are a space for socialization and communication.”
Why it matters:
Globalization and the steady growth of production have led to eating patterns that threaten our health. A fast-paced world leaves us little time to consider what we’re really eating and what constitutes a healthy diet.
The adoption of high fat and cholesterol, high sugar, high carb diet has become the norm. Do we fully understand what this entails?
Results of a 2019 study published in Lancet assessed the diets of people in 195 countries. The researchers estimated the impact of poor diets on the risk of death from several diseases that include cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.
From that data, they estimated the yearly global deaths and compared them to deaths related to other risk factors, such as drug or tobacco use. Compared to all other risk factors, diet led with 11 million deaths.
“This study shows that poor diet is the leading risk factor for deaths in the majority of the countries of the world,” stated study author Ashkan Afshin, M.D.
Unhealthy diets are “a larger determinant of ill health than either tobacco or high blood pressure,” he says.
Globally, the economic cost of overweight and obesity-related non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, equals around 2 trillion dollars!
In the light of such information, some countries with the lowest rates of diet-related deaths can inspire change. They include France, Spain, and Japan.
And their ways of eating share one thing: a resemblance to the Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean Diet and the Benefits of Family Meals
The Mediterranean diet’s millennia-long history is a rich one. To understand it fully, we must ask, “What is it?” and “How does it uniquely benefit our health?”
What it is:
A Mediterranean diet incorporates the traditional healthy lifestyles of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Because it varies depending on country and region, the Mediterranean diet has a range of definitions. But all of them include significant amounts of:
and legumes. They allow small amounts of dairy and meat, especially fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil.
Extensive research has linked the Mediterranean diet to several essential health benefits, including:
- lowering the risk of heart disease.
- help in preventing or managing type 2 diabetes.
- reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- prevention of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease
- possible easing of depression symptoms
How it benefits our health:
UNESCO recently recognized the Mediterranean diet as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity. As a shared experience of healthy foods, they found it exceptional. In other words, they considered it a showcase for the benefits of family meals.
In Mediterranean countries where family and food traditions intertwine, the family meal borders on a sacred ritual.
Meal satisfaction, in the Mediterranean tradition, means much more than portion size or quantity. Cooking and sitting together to enjoy the company and food are essential to the spirit of every meal.
The sense of community springing from shared meals has contributed to the Mediterranean diet’s success in passing from generation to generation.
However, urbanization and our increasingly fast-paced lives have meant fewer shared meals. And when the shared meals go, the opportunities for congenial social interactions go with them!
This disturbing trend has caused scientists to raise the question, how vital can the benefits of family meals be?
1: They teach kids better eating habits.
According to a recent study in JAMA Network Open, sharing meals with family members is associated with a better diet overall, especially in adolescents. The researchers reported that the teens also ate more fruits and vegetables.
2: They can prevent serious psychosocial issues.
Other research found that frequent family dinners prevent issues with:
- eating disorders
- violent behavior
- alcohol and substance abuse
and suicidal thoughts.
3: They improve communication skills.
Social interactions, discussions, and contributions at the dinner table can make kids better communicators. The safest place for family members to speak their minds is among their loved ones.
4: They can help kids bounce back from cyberbullying.
JAMA Pediatrics research surveying nearly 19,000 students found that teens eating dinners with their families (ideally 4 to 5 times weekly) reported fewer issues with bullying.
As an irreplaceable asset, our health deserves care and compassion. However, for too many people in the 21st century, it receives neither.
Incorporating small changes in daily habits could have prevented 11 million yearly deaths.
Simply put? Sharing a conversation and a daily plant-based meal with those you love could put you on a completely new and healthier trajectory.
The benefits of family meals simply can’t be overestimated. Cura ut valeas – take care of yourself to be well!