Holistic Healthy Mediterranean Diet Starts in the Garden

By Dick Handscombe, author and gardener in Spain who enjoys a self-sufficient lifestyle and promotes slow food.


Dick enjoying an impromptu breakfast snack of veggies, tangerines and hibiscus flowers from his mini salad vegetable beds

When in 1993 I was recommended to stop work and retire early to Spain to enjoy a Mediterranean diet. It was difficult to determine what was the original healthy Mediterranean diet as various authors of articles on the subject took a narrow partisan view.

The description of a framework for a Mediterranean diet was often biased one way or another to promote particular products and services and failed to highlight that pre-industrialisation was an important factor in the environment in which one lived and ate, and what was eaten was chemical free. I therefore set out to draw up a balanced description.

Inevitably my own model is a personal interpretation of what I have read, heard and observed, and is as follows. I started with the premise that a description of the best of original Mediterranean diets needs to include all those things that a body would have taken in during a day, week and month. The following seventeen elements were identified.

This list is extracted from my books Living well from our garden: Mediterranean style and Vivir bien de un jardin Español al estilo Mediterráneo The latter was published via Amazon España earlier this month (November 2014) in time to be a Christmas present for Spanish friends. Those ingredients that can be available from a holistic garden are in bold letters.


  • Fresh air – oxygen and aroma of nearby native herbs.
  • Regular exercise – to collect and in many cases grow foods.
  • Spring water – energised by natural vortexes and cascades.
  • Fresh herbs – some for flavour, some recognised as being beneficial to health.
  • Fresh vegetables – harvested each day whether grown or bought.
  • Fresh fruits – harvested and eaten when at their best, often daily.
  • Nuts – harvested from own trees or in the wild.
  • Fresh fish – from the local sea, rivers or lakes.
  • Some naturally reared meats – fresh, air dried or cured – the best and most eaten only on feast days.
  • Artisan sheep and goat cheeses – own or locally produced.
  • Sun dried vegetables, herbs, fruit, nuts and fish and meats – to eat raw or in prepared dishes out of season.
  • Local red wine and grape juice – own, family or neighbours
  • Local milk – goat or cow, own animals or local often milked at the door.
  • Hillside honey – wild or hives – own or neighbours.
  • Artisan breads – often from families local variety home grown grains – stone ground at local mill and whole meal.
  • Olives and olive oil – often from own trees – own curing of olives and oil from local cold press.
  • Natural colorants and flavourings – using natural features of the above ingredients -wide use of herbs, fruits, vegetables, saffron for orange tints, and sun dried or mined salt.

Note that the list excludes processed foods.

For many Spanish families along the expat Mediterranean coastal plain and inland valleys most ingredients were once upon a time self grown, bartered or bought without travelling beyond the homestead, village or town.

As our valley abandoned, step by step, traditional agriculture over the past twenty five years we gradually increased the extent of our garden dedicated to things to eat and drink. Why not do likewise? You can even start with salad vegetables in black builders buckets as you can see in my photo above!

Copyright © Dick Handscombe 2014

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