To eat everything in moderation or to stick to a regimented diet? To swear off alcohol or to enjoy a drink every now and again? To go gluten free or not? Grain or no grain? Meat or no meat? Vegan or vegetarian?

Whoa! The overwhelming choices are greater than ever on the food front. Thanks to more television shows about food, an overabundance of ‘food porn’ on social media, and our incredible multicultural society opening up our eyes, noses and mouths to the tastes of foods we’ve never eaten before, we are more confused than ever about what the ‘right diet’ actually is!

Don’t despair though! Culture and tradition never fail to leave some clues, and when you take a look at populations who are living well around the world, an encouraging (and relieving) pattern emerges.

The Sardinians for example have one of the highest centenarian rates in the world. Not only do men make up a higher proportion of the centenarians than women; the Sardinians drink wine, eat pasta and bread (full of gluten) and don’t exactly have a ‘restricted’ diet.

Closer to home, to Okinawa in Japan, and you find the staple diet of rice, fish and vegetables continuing to serve the elder Okinawan generation just as well as it ever has. Conversely, and sadly too, elder Okinawans are burying their children and grandchildren on the back of the new fast-food culture. In a fascinating twist (and often directed to the westernisation of Okinawa owing to the US military presence), this centre of longevity is also home to Japan’s highest rate of obesity, and, when it comes to middle-aged men, has one of the highest rates of premature death from heart disease.

On the Greek island of Ikaria, it’s not rare to see elders smoking, drinking coffee and eating ice-cream (all at once). And the wine! It certainly flows at almost any time of the day, and still this island of 7,000 is widely regarded as the ‘island where people forget to die’. No dementia, and heavily reduced instances of heart disease and cancer, have many experts scratching their heads!

So what can we learn from all of this? Here are just three of the common clues:

  • All cultures eat seasonal, local, organic wholefood. Yes, there’s some ice-cream and chocolate on hand, but the good old 80/20 rule seems to apply here. Most of the diet comes from what grows in their backyard.
  • Food is to be enjoyed with others. Of course there are times when we find ourselves eating alone; however, one important element of food is its ability to bring people together. No matter the food, it’s the company you share it with that seems to have an immeasurable impact on human health.
  • Relax. Back in the day, ‘orthorexia nervosa’ was an unknown term. Today it is an established psychological condition attached to people who have become so hellbent and obsessed by the ‘perfect diet’ that the stress of it all causes anxiety.

Thankfully, the Byron Shire is an incredible place to eat seasonal, local, organic wholefood, with others and in a relaxed environment. The next time you find yourself in front of a pizza, a bottle of wine or a chocolate cake, instead of getting the guilts, simply find a friend, take a breath, and enjoy the gift of life that our wonderful food allows us all to celebrate.

Note from the author: This article is in no way intended to diminish the role of healing diets in society. If a health professional has prescribed a specific eating plan for you this article is not intended to replace or intimate at any shift from a prescribed diet.

– Marcus Pearce