Sardinian Diet

Now that the Mediterranean Diet Plan is yesterdays news, it seems the Sardinian Diet is going to be the next big trend to have researchers scratching their heads.

Interest in Sardinia, a small island off the coast of Italy in the middle of the Mediterranean, first came to public attention in the book The Blue Zone: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest, in which the author, Dan Buettner, identified places around the world where people routinely live 100 years or more. A recent appearance by the author on ABC’s morning show seems to have renewed interest in this particular area of the world and the dietary habits of its inhabitants.

People want to know what the Sardinian’s “secrets” are. Is it the vino nero (“black wine”), which is a very dark red and has the highest antioxidant level of any wine? Is it a particular type of cheese they eat, which actually contains live maggots to which the men of the island attribute their virility? Or is it the fact that they only eat meat once or twice a week? Is it the exercise? Their outlook on life?

No doubt Buettner’s recent TV appearance has boosted sales of Cannonau di Sadegna, the vino nero featured on the ABC broadcast. But let me drop my own opinion on this (as you knew I would).

For us to try to mimic diets such as these by shipping in high-antioxidant wine or Italian maggot cheese completely misses the point, in my opinion. We’re always looking for the tricks; the superfoods that we can add to our diet that will miraculously bring about health. But perhaps we should be mimicking the diets of these peoples in style, not content – eat like they eat, but not necessarily what they eat.

Let’s look at the entire diets of these centenarians (those who live to 100) and not just the particular heavy hitters they’re eating. Drinking high-antioxidant red wine with your microwaved mini-cheeseburgers or sticking that fine Sardinian cheese on a Triscuit or a Ritz cracker ain’t gonna cut it. What these centenarians are eating may actually play second fiddle to what they’re not eating – no MSG laden fast food, no packaged food, no frozen dinners, no formulated vitamin drinks or calorie reduced sodas, no trans-fat filled baked goods or fat-reduced dairy products.

Fresh, seasonal, locally grown vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, legumes and modest amounts of meats, fish and seafood are what make up the typical diet of the Sardinian people. In other words, real, unprocessed, local whole foods.

Yes, they eat cheese and bread, but this isn’t a brick of cracker barrel and a loaf of Dempsters. The cheese is from grass fed sheep and is unpasteurized, meaning all the nutrition from the animal eating its natural diet (not force-fed grains) is intact. This includes omega-3 fatty acids, conjugated linoleic acid (a potent cancer fighter commonly referred to as CLA), naturally occurring beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin E (as opposed to the vitamin-fortified pasteurized dairy products we eat). Now I’m not talking about the maggot cheese here, which is apparently illegal in Sardinia and needs to be sneakily processed and consumed. This is the pecorino cheese they eat daily for breakfast with bread.

And, like I said, the bread ain’t Dempsters. Bread from freshly milled flours using grains that have likely remained genetically untampered since their ancestors first started harvesting it, not from flours milled in factories and allowed to go rancid on store shelves. And the whole grain bread is leavened using a probiotic bacteria that is beneficial to gut health; getting rid of bad bacteria and generating vitamins in the gut. Most of us in North America probably can’t even conceive of how bread like this would taste because we’ve never had anything like it.

The Sardinians are eating a diet from the earth that has remained unchanged for many, many generations. The rest of us are eating experimental ingredients that were discovered in a lab and have been eaten for less than one generation. Is there really any mystery as to which group is going to live longer? Kinda sheds new light on “the French Paradox” too, wouldn’t you say?

The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale