Cilento Coast | The Mediterranean Diet

Monteforte / Cilento
Monteforte | Cilento

When you visit Campania with us, you will definitely visit the Cilento region; it is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets. This region is often labeled as the forgotten cousin of the famous Amalfi Coast. Cilento is approximately two hours south of the Amalfi Coast by car.  It presents the wilder, untouched nature of Southern Italy. It is nestled between the gulfs of Salerno and the Bay of Policastro.

The area is known for its lush vegetation, Archaeological Park of Paestum (where three magnificent UNESCO Greek temples stand), Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park, the beautiful coastal beach town of Palinuro, and its stunning Blue Grotto that rivals the one of Capri. It is easy to spend a few glorious days enjoying all this along with the unique fishing villages, resorts, and savor “la dolce vita!”

However, there is one more great reason to visit the Cilento Coast and it has to do with the Second World War and an American doctor.  Can you guess what it is? Here’s a hint, it has to do with a world-famous diet. Yes, Cilento’s biggest claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of the Mediterranean diet.  This is a diet that we are all familiar with, possibly bought the book, and even benefited from following its healthy dietary lifestyle. The health craze that took the world by storm all started here by a United States military doctor named Ancel Keys.

Continue reading to learn how this idyllic area of Campania became a source of inspiration for healthy living.

Dr. Ancel Keys | History of Mediterranean Diet

American physiologist and nutritionist Dr. Ancel Keys (1904-2004) made the Mediterranean diet the poster child of health and wellness post-WWII. The good doctor revolutionized physiology and health studies with his groundbreaking research. He investigated the impact of industrialization, epidemics, and starvation. His studies stretched over a series of projects covering the significance of diet before and after the war.

One of his most popular findings was the portioned food rations used by American troops during WWII. K rations consisted of nutritious pocket-sized meals that helped stranded servicemen survive under extreme conditions. He also brought forth different methodologies to ‘re-feed starving people’ after the war.

In 1958, he started the ambitious Seven Countries study. It revolved around the research of 12,000 participants (all healthy middle-aged men) located in seven different countries.  These areas included Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, Finland, Japan, and the United States.

A finding of lasting importance was that a Mediterranean diet — rich in fruits, vegetables, pasta, and olive oil, with small portions of meat, fish, and dairy products — appeared to be protective against heart disease.

While based in the Cilento area during the war he noticed that many of the small villages had a great number of healthy elderly in their 80s, 90s, and even centenarians. His research showed that it was the diet of these people and keeping an active lifestyle that made for this healthy elderly population.  His findings paved the way for the several cookbooks based on the Mediterranean diet that became famous worldwide.

What Role Did Cilento Coast Play in the History of the Mediterranean Diet?

The Cilento Coast served as a muse for Dr. Keys and his biochemist wife Margaret in their efforts to live healthier. After the war, the couple moved to Pioppi (ground zero for the Mediterranean diet) to practice and learn more about the town’s people’s diet and their secret to longevity.  Ancel and his wife changed their diets to mirror that of the town’s people of Pioppi.  In turn, this gave them great insight into the culinary procedures and wisdom behind their healthy diet. Their plan worked, doctor Keys lived a long healthy life up to the ripe old age of 101.

Mediterranean Diet Tips: The Healthier Side of Life

Ancel Keys went on to author several best-seller books all based on his research of the Mediterranian diet. They are Eat Well and Stay Well, How to Eat Well and Stay Well the Mediterranean Way, and the Benevolent Bean. These cookbooks featured the benefits of the Mediterranean diet along with many heart-healthy recipes.  A fascinating aspect of these dishes was the inclusion of oil and fats, and even alcohol.

Unlike other diets, Mediterranean cuisine adopts a holistic approach to eating. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) considers the Mediterranean diet to be a cultural heritage for humanity.

UNESCO describes this cultural heritage of humanity as, “a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking and particularly the sharing and consumption of food.” Inspired by Dr. Keys’ books, modern nutritionists and fitness enthusiasts have used today’s technology to create diet plans based on the groundbreaking work of Ancel Keys from years ago.

Here are a few practical ways to get started

Mediterranean Diet

Healthy diet factors to keep in mind

  • Reap the benefits of a plant-powered diet by maximizing your daily consumption of fresh
    fruits and veggies.
  • Balance leafy greens with a healthy intake of fresh poultry, fish, and eggs.
  • Switch to whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids (aka healthy fats.)
  • Incorporate legumes and lentils (i.e. red beans, chickpea, soybean, fenugreek, and black-eyed
    beans) into your meal plan.
  • Take dairy products in moderation.
  • Reduce red meat intake.
  • Ditch ordinary cooking oil for Extra Virgin heart-healthy olive oil.

Overall, the key to a healthy diet lies in moderation and balance. Remember to include something from all food four food groups into your diet plan and consult your physician first if you have any underlining health issues.  However, this strategy will ensure that you will receive a well-balanced meal with all essential nutrients each day.

Ready to Jet off to Cilento Coast?

Village of Pioppi | Campania, Italy

Tavola Tours specializes in culinary and cultural itineraries.  A trip with us to Campania will take you from the glamour and glitz of the Amalfi Coast to many places off the beaten path that are very near and dear to who we are as a tour company.  The Cilento coast is extraordinary and it is a must-see location on our itinerary. Make your visit to Cilento memorable with a trip to the Living Museum of the Mediterranean Diet in Pioppi. This museum takes visitors on an immersive journey through the rich cultural and regional history of the local diet. It also includes a section covering Dr. Keys’ contributions to the Mediterranean diet.

Apart from this, during our tour, you will eat at A Casa di Delia in Pioppi and have a cooking class based on the Mediterranean diet. The restaurant is owned by Ancel Keys’cook Delia Morinelli, who’s dubbed as the official ambassador (and muse) for the diet. Delia runs the restaurant with her son, Angelo. Each meal is seasoned with love and along with the signature healthy ingredients that inspired her former employer.

A visit to the Cilento Coast is very special as you have just learned.  It is a fun and educational adventure and we take it seriously.  Our goal is to help create a balanced understanding of the Campania region for you.

Cilento’s charming coastal villages will help you unwind, rejuvenate, and learn about the art of eating the Mediterranean way.  As a result, the area’s heart-healthy cuisine and stunning scenic views will feed your mind, body, and soul.  Ultimately, making you feel good and longing to return time and time again.

Remember to check out the  Mediterranean Diet Museum in Pioppi dedicated to the research of Ancel Keys and the local diet.  Also, keep your travel inspiration going and read about the ancient Greeks in Southern Italy

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