Portuguese Food is a Mediterranean Diet

One of the unexpected advantages of my move to Portugal is the change in my everyday diet and the results on my health and my weight.  Portugal is a low density population country, which means that its people can in most areas be fed by local foods and crops. Very few food miles – YEAH!

There are very few processed foods and very few frozen foods available where I am and almost everyone makes their food from scratch using fresh ingredients.  The nearest thing we have to a takeaway is a shop that sells freshly grilled chicken and a home cooked pizza shop where fresh pizzas are cooked on the premises.

In the larger towns, you may get a Starbucks or a McDonald’s and frozen food shops such as Iceland but these are usually there to supply the demand of foreigners.

We use olive oil to cook and on our daily salads, we rarely use butter for cooking unless it is to bake a cake or for special dishes that require it to maintain their authenticity.  Our milk consumption is lower as we do not eat cereals for breakfast.

We usually accompany our evening meals with a glass of local wine to “help our digestion.”

We eat a lot of fish, fruit and vegetables – all fresh and all grown within about 15 kilometres of where we live.  All cheap compared to what you would pay in the UK.

Yesterday, I bought two kilos of fresh strawberries for less than four dollars/three pounds!

The Portuguese also eat a lot of nuts – if I could I would eat them too but my digestion will not support them.

The Portuguese also have a fondness for eggs – quite often an egg is added at the end of a dish and it broken as the dish is served and then stirred into the dish at the table in front of you.  They are very fond of candies and cakes made with and showcasing eggs – particularly the yolks whipped into strands and held in place with sugar – very sickly and not to my taste.

It is difficult and expensive to follow a Western diet here. You can get your sodas and your Cokes – at a price – but it is cheaper and much better for you to make homemade lemonade or press a few oranges to make fresh juice.

Every village in Alentejo has its own bakery – fresh artisan bread available from 6.00 am until 8.00 pm.

Each village has its own speciality depending on what flour is available locally and what grains grow better in their locality.

Cheeses are made from sheep and goat milk and are therefore healthier options than the cow’s milk cheeses that are commonly available in the UK.

Let’s compare:

UK Portugal
Breakfast Tea, with whole milk
Cereal with whole Milk
Fresh Orange Juice
Coffee with whole milk
Two pieces of rustic unrefined bread to dunk in toast
Lunch Cow’s milk cheese in refined bread sandwiches with butter as well.  Yogurt on good days – processed pudding on bad days Fresh goats cheese and tomato salad, dressed in olive oil with fresh herbs – rustic bread to dip.
Fresh fruit to follow
Dinner Usually fresh or frozen meat or processed meat with potatoes and vegetables  - or pre –made or frozen meal with restricted vegetables, Accompanied by a soda Fresh fish or meat with rice or couscous and freshly cooked vegetables – cooked in olive oil. Seafood pasta cooked in wine and herbs, olive oil and garlic. Accompanied by a glass of wine.

We also tend to eat outside a lot – especially in the summer, so our meals get even simpler – charcoal grilled meat and salads and fresh fruit.  Simple seasonal vegetables cooked in olive oil are also a firm favourite.

Just a quick look at the absence of processed foods shows that a Mediterranean Diet is a positive health measure and the cheapness and availability of fresh food makes it a very easy lifestyle change to make and sustain long-term.

16 comments

  • Great fun, Nicola! I’m crazy in love with this article. The “Mediterranean Diet” is big in the news now with the verification that the diet works and makes people healthy. It seems like the only difference in the 7,500 person 5-year test is that half were fed olive oil and nuts the the other half were not. The “Oily” side were quantitatively much healthier, so much so, that they stopped the experiment to give everyone olive oil and nuts and to tell the rest of us what they found…

    I am big on olive oil. It’s delicious by the spoonful — just as a spoonful!

    I’m with you on the nuts — highly overrated and dangerous in that they’re actually an enzyme inhibitor — and they also really mess up your guts something mighty. Since we’ve stopped eating them, we feel so much better.

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  • I am loving my olive oils almost as much as my wines. There are so many different brands and they all have their own subtulties and charateristics. Our every day basic olive oil comes from a cooperative near Beja – the regional capital. In some ways it is very like the bread – each town has its own brand and its own history – like a lot of the regional specialities. Quite fascinating – almost makes each meal you have a living history lesson.

    I am glad to know I am not the only person who has issues with nuts – as you know my gut is several feet shorter than most peoples – no wonder they cause me problems!

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    • Love all that exposure to olive oil! I love bread. Any bread. All bread. As long as it isn’t mainstream-chemical-bland.

      Is there a difference between a “seed” and a “nut?” Are sunflower and pumpkins seeds chemically different than walnuts and peanuts and the like?

      As well as being enzyme inhibitors, nuts also gnaw you and bind you on the inside because most people don’t chew them enough down to butter — and even then, you have a giant clump of “butter nuts” in your gut — imagine eating bits of gravel, and what it would do to your insides, that’s how most people swallow their “chewed” nuts.

      The new “Probiotic” movement is popular, in part, to what nuts do to our dietary needs. The nuts strip the enzymes and the probiotics try to put it all back!

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      • I love my bread too – especially dunked in “juice” at the end of a salad or sauce from a meal – and just good old olive oil , salt pepper and herbs.

        I had to go and look up seeds and nuts and enzyme inhibitors. I kinow seeds and nuts are defined differently in a biological context. In a nutritional context they appear to be always lumped together as a food group. They appear to be chemically similar – providing similar nutriton – I would need to ask a biochemist to give a more informed answer.

        Several places indicate that soaking the nuts or the seeds in a salt water soloution overnight will strip them of their enzyme inhibitors.

        I can actually cope with a few seeds especially in my breads – sunflower and poppy are favorites.

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        • Excellent info about nuts and seeds, thanks!

          Yes, bread is my large downfall. I can’t ever resist a warm slice of fresh bread. I am manic about it — so much so that I try to avoid it at all costs because if I start, I won’t stop! Yum! SMILE!

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          • once again we have something in common …………….. hot home made bread …………….. ut that first slice and the whole loaf is gone by lunch time !

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          • Yes! That’s it! Irresistible! And I make no apologies! The diet experts say bread is bad carbs, bread makes you fat, and I always say that, in my case, it’s just the opposite. I can eat bread and be super healthy. It invigorates me. Bread is my SuperFood!

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          • Not all bread is bad carbs – multi grain, seeded , oiled bread that is not mass manufactured is not so bad carbs !

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  • I love olive oil! I have a spoon with my oats every morning along with Mrs.Bragg’s Amino Acids — good protein! Great article and love those photographs!

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  • I really enjoy your writing Nicola. With this article I especially enjoyed that you compared breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the UK and in Portugal. It really helped me noticed the differences and the overall healthier options. I also, as I have stated before, really enjoyed your pictures.

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