Sardinia, an island 300 km off the west coast of Italy has been catergorised as a Blue Zone, which are regions of the world where people regularly live longer than elsewhere in the world. There is much speculation as to why people in these regions live to a ripe old age and diet is likely to be an important factor.
Yet it may be more than the foods eaten—cereals, vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, olive oil, wine and coffee—that contributes to the robust health of the Sardinian people. It may also be that the foods eaten in Sardinia are predominately locally produced and minimally processed.
Traveling through Sardinia my husband and I have witnessed men in the hill country herding goats; the milk predominately used for making a variety of cheeses. We saw small farms where grains, olives and citrus fruits are grown. On one leg of our cycle journey we even saw trucks transporting milk and grain to factories for bottling milk and the manufacture of pasta. In the villages we visited, small delicatessens were selling freshly made bread, local cheeses and cured meats.
Not only is it the food consumed, it is likely that the subsistence-based lifestyle is a major factor in the health of Sardinians; a lifestyle that is physically demanding and requires considerable time outdoors. However, what may be the most influential factor in the health of Sardinian’s may not be simply what people eat but how people eat, and the culture surrounding mealtimes.
The most striking observation about the lifestyle when you arrive in Sardinia is the pace of life. People do not seem to be in a hurry to get anywhere. Life seems more relaxed. Time is spent socialising over a coffee or whilst purchasing a freshly cut wedge of cheese at the delicatessen.
Eating is yet another activity that they do not rush. Unlike in Australia or America where we often eat on the run or scoff down our lunch in a hurry to get back to work, Sardinia’s take their time to eat. Most notable is the Sunday lunch, which may be consumed over three to four hours.
We decided to experience one of these lengthy lunches for ourselves at Azienda Agrituristica Sa Mandra in Alghero. It was a five course meal that started with multiple appetizers of various goat and sheep cheeses, vegetables in olive oil, and crisp bread. This was followed with a first course of ravioli and a locally produced pasta. It is interesting that the pasta and pizza that we consider a main meal is generally eaten as a shared entrée before the mains, which is often meats, vegetables or stews. At our dining experience, spit roasted pork was served with salad and vegetables, whilst us vegetarians enjoyed potato, peas and egg. This main course was followed by an array of sweets, which are normally consumed throughout the afternoon with family, only once or twice a week.
In our case of eating a Sunday lunch as dinner we only managed a taste of each delectable morsel as by this stage of the meal we were sufficiently satisfied with the volume we had consumed. All this delectable food was accompanied with a bottle of red wine and finished off with a digestivo of lemon liquor. This shot seemed to clear the sinuses and although we felt we had eaten a substantial amount of food this delicious drink soothed our full stomachs. As a dinner where we desired to try everything we definitely ate too much. However, it gave us an appreciation and perspective of what this normally leisurely and social meal is like.
A variety of health promoting foods constitute the Sardinian diet. However, it appears to me that it is likely the combination of what and how they eat that contributes to the long lives of Sardinian’s, in addition to the low stress and slow pace of life. The experience of traveling through Sardinia has reaffirmed in my mind that it may not be so much what you eat but slowing down and joyfully eating in the moment, which contributes to good health and longevity.
Davis C., Bryan J., Hodgson J., Murphy K. Definition of the Mediterranean Diet: A Literature Review. Nutrients, 2015. 7: 9139-9153.
Oldways. Mediterranean Diet Pyramid and Diet. Available online.
Note: I do not wish to romanticise the Sardinian way of life as it is apparent that this subsistence way of life is essential due to economic hardship. I recognise that other socioeconomic factors may influence quality of life, beyond good health and longevity.