Most of us have tried at least one diet in our lives. In this age of unprecedented obesity, there are as many schemes to “get skinny” as there are “get rich”. But, for all the glitz and glamour, a diet by any other name is still just a diet. So, with all the diets that exist, why are we all still a little, you know, pudgy? Because a diet is not just about food, it is about our whole body and lifestyle. Focusing on just what we consume and limiting our food intake is not sustainable past a day, a week or a month. And, we can all see this in our collective waistlines. The weight of the average American has dramatically escalated during our lifetime!

So, what are we to do? Is there a “diet” that is sensible, delicious and good for us? Sure there is! Take the Mediterranean diet, for example, which is rich in healthy olive oils, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish and – my favorite part – red wine. Laden with resveratrol and antioxidants (which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and increase good cholesterol levels), red wine in moderation has amazing health benefits. In addition, the Mediterranean diet also incorporates less meat and dairy products than our modern American diet, which further contributes to its heart healthy impacts.

One of the reasons I like the Mediterranean diet is because it is not punishing. In fact, at its heart are flavorful food, comfort and good friends and family! I imagine sitting by the sea, enjoying a leisurely breakfast of fruit and yogurt. Or, sharing a deliciously prepared lunch of fresh, grilled fish marinated with sweet-smelling herbs and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, roasted summer vegetables and a glass of healthy vino. Now that, I can do!

Like every “diet,” this one also has its critics. But, with an emphasis on moderation and well-balanced meals, this is an excellent way to eat that can help us live longer. Research shows that eating a Mediterranean diet can help reduce our risk of cancer and cardiovascular, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

So, is the moral of this health story to simply toss down gallons of red wine, splash olive oil on everything and we’ll all live forever? Sadly, no. The Mediterranean diet proves that we cannot view food in isolation and that our health is based on more than a way of eating – it is a way of living! Look what happened when the Mediterranean people themselves began to embrace a more urban lifestyle, eating more white breads, red meat and prepared meals. They gained weight!

Plus, we cannot forget physical activity. We can eat the world’s healthiest food, but if we are lying on the couch watching television or gulping down food in the car on the way to work, we still will not be healthy. We need to take control of our lives. We need to get out and have fun, shake off stress with a nice walk or a bike ride. We should grow our own food, or at least buy seasonally fresh food from the local farmers market. And, most importantly, we need to savor our meals and enjoy ourselves. Gather around the table for a leisurely, sociable dinner with our children, friends or family, discuss the day and allow ample time to eat and digest.

Being healthy requires a sensible attitude to portions, variety in our food and plenty of exercise. Being healthy also implores us not to dwell on our weight and the whole “I went off my diet” thing. It’s the worrying that will kill us, not the occasional splurge. And, it’s the NOT worrying and learning to relax that will save our lives, more than the olive oil will.

So go ahead, let’s have a glass of red wine with dinner, and toast to our health!

By Gary Appelsies