Bob Barnett, a journalist and long-time friend, recently asked Oldways for ideas about whom to interview for an article he was writing for Family Circle about the Mediterranean Diet and depression. I gave Bob the names of well known, respected scientists who have done research on the subject – Miguel Angel Martinez Gonzalez of the University of Navarra and one of the principal investigators of the SUN and PREDIMED studies; and Martha Morris and Christy Tangney at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago – to give him background and summary information about the nutrition science studies they’d published.
Since Bob was writing for Family Circle, he also asked me what I’d say to readers of the magazine about the Mediterranean Diet and depression. I told him that I believe making family a priority is one key to a happy and healthy family life, and meals are no exception.
As it does when we’re boarding an airplane, priority means ﬁrst in line (or at least close to ﬁrst in line!). The dictionary deﬁnes priorities as “of greatest importance.” In terms of eating, priority means making family meals at least a few nights of the week. Priority is parents choosing a family meal instead of staying late at work, or ﬁtting meals in between too many after school or evening activities for kids.
While what we eat is important (traditional diets like the Mediterranean, African Heritage or Vegetarian Diets are what Oldways and many scientists and scientiﬁc studies believe are especially healthy models to follow), it’s not just the food.
A national survey of 26,069 adolescents in Canada by McGill University professor Frank Elgar found that “more frequent family dinners related to fewer emotional and behavioral problems, greater emotional well-being, more trusting and helpful behaviors towards others and higher life satisfaction.”
The foundation of the Oldways Traditional Diet Pyramids includes lifestyle attributes – physical activity, cooking, gardening, playing, sleeping, and eating together at the table. American families have abandoned many of these healthy old ways: a nap (siesta in Spain); lunch away from the computer or iPhone; meeting before dinner to talk and unwind (cocktail time in the 50s and 60s); a leisurely walk with friends or family (passegiata in Italy or paseo in Spain).
These simple lifestyle changes, including family meals, may seem daunting in a wildly busy, overly (electronically) connected world. However, these changes may very well bring the connection and happiness that all of us are looking for. It’s all about priorities – what’s ﬁrst in your line?