In the 5 days I’ve been in Northern Spain as an au pair, I’ve already noticed how much healthier the Mediterranean diet is compared to the British diet. The phrase “Breakfast like a king, Lunch like a prince and Dine like a pauper” is a perfect representation of how the Spaniards eat.
Breakfast is fuel for the day but no where in sight would there ever be bacon, sausages or beans. The full English is something that seems to mystify my hosts, especially the presence of beans for breakfast, which for them, would never be a breakfast item. Fruit, yogurts and cereal is the standard here. Nutritious, healthy and slowly released energy to last the long days in the heat.
Lunch in Spain is similar to what I, as a Brit, would have for my evening meal. Lunch is designed to last a person until dinner which is not served until at least 9 pm. From what I’ve experienced so far, snacking is uncommon here. A piece of fruit will suffice to last the 8 or so hours until a person’s next meal.
So to sufficiently avoid hunger pangs, lunch is huge but meals in Spain are not like British meals where ingredients are prepared to make one meal e.g. A roast dinner. There will be a selection of plates to build you own lunch. A bowl of pasta, which I could eat for just myself, is shared between the family. Then there is a large salad with various sides. Avocado, beef tomato, sliced peppers etc. then usually a meat of some sort. Lomo is a bacon like meat fried in oil or there will be dry cured ham. Seafood is also very popular. With no dependence upon what you’re eating, there will always be a fresh baguette to eat too.
No Spanish meal is complete without olive oil. As the largest consumers of olive oil in the world, the Spanish know how to use it. Extra virgin oil on a salad goes without saying. To quote the movie The Family,
“Olive oil caresses your insides and leaves nothing behind except its scent”
I’m not sure why exactly, but the evening meal in Spain is late. I had always gone along with the suggestion to not eat past 8 o’clock in the evening due to unused calories, but a Spanish dinner doesn’t really consist of any. A salad is again, the norm but with maybe some tuna or a little meat.
Dessert is a daily regularity but compared to the British ideal of cake or ice cream, people here have a yogurt or some fruit or something equally as healthy.
Compared to a country where 5-a-day jargon is a consistent reminder, the Spanish don’t even have to think about it. Fruit and vegetables are just part of the diet. There is no effort to include them because these are the basis foods which feeds them.
I thought that moving here and radically changing the way in which I eat would leave me hungry between meals, but this hasn’t been the case. The low fat and low carb diet releases energy slowly through the day but maintains alertness. There appears to be no sign of coffee and I’ve not seen sugar used in any capacity. Fizzy drinks are not advertised everywhere you look here and there is a strict rule for either water or wine at the dinner table.
Put it this way: when it comes to diet, the Mediterraneans have got it right.