Eat like a Spaniard: Ten tips to kick-start your Mediterranean diet

Everyone talks about it, but not many know what it entails. The Locals gives you tips to follow if you want to eat like a true Southern European.

Eat like a Spaniard: Ten tips to kick-start your Mediterranean diet
A fruit seller at a market in Barcelona. Photo: Daniel Angele/Unsplash

If you ask anyone – whether in Japan, the UK or Norway – if they heard about the Mediterranean diet, they would probably say yes. If you ask them what it actually consists of, most of them won’t probably know. Deemed by the US News and World Report as the best diet for 2019, the Mediterranean diet is followed mainly by the people from countries bordering the Mediterranean sea, like Italy, Spain, Greece, France and even Portugal (even though it isn’t actually on the Med).

Even if it has the word diet in it, the Mediterranean diet is more of a way of living and eating healthy. It differs from country to country, but at its core is based on vegetables, legumes, cereals and fish. The Spanish Society of Endocrinology and Nutrition says that one of the main pros of the Mediterranean diet is that it helps prevent illnesses like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

The Mediterrean diet is largely considered responsible for making Spain the healthiest place to live in the world, according to a Bloomberg study last month, and contributes it’s long life expectancy – currently the longest in Europe and set to be  


A waiter serves paella on a beach in Ibiza. Photo: AFP

These are the top ten tips that will make your eating habits healthier:

– Have food rich with fibres, minerals and anti-oxidants aka fresh and dried fruit. You should consume 3 portions of fresh fruit per day (the more seasonal, the better). As regards dried fruit (like nuts and almonds), you should have it 3-7 times a week; remember to avoid processed fruit cause they might have lost some of their healthiest properties.

– consume cereals (preferably wholegrain – integral in Spanish) every day and legumes (such as lentils and chick peas) 2-4 times a week.

– eat vegetables twice a day and, at least once, they should be raw, preferably added in salads.
– always use virgin olive oil, both for cooking and for flavouring. Cut down on your consumption of animal fats (butter, sausages, ham, …) and avoid anything fried.

– eat more fish than meat but if you feel like you can’t give up on it, eat more white meat (chicken, turkey, rabbit) than red meat (ham, veal, game). As a general rule, meat should not be consumed more than 2-3 times a week.

– avoid consuming processed food, especially those that containing hydrogenated vegetable oil. They are usually present in products like margarine and pastries, but they are not good for your health.

– eat 3-7 eggs per week: they have all the nutrients you need and therefore are a complete meal in and of themselves.

– avoid all sugary drinks and super-processed foods.

– have dairy twice a day. While Infants, children, pregnant women and women in menopause should add a third one to their daily diet, people suffering from obesity, high cholesterol and cardio-vascular problems should have it skimmed. Yoghurt is an extremely healthy way of incorporating dairy into your daily eating habits.

– use iodised salt in small quantities. If you feel like your food doesn’t taste much, use aromatic herbs like oregano and parsley instead.

It feels redundant to say it, but you also need to drink two litres of water every day and exercise regularly!

READ ALSO: These are the 17 absolute worst things about living in Spain 

By Ilaria Grasso Macola / The Local Spain

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Despite being known for its year-long sunny weather, Spain is the EU country with the fewest homes with natural light, often intentionally. Why is it that when it comes to spending time at home, Spaniards seem to love being in the dark?

Why are Spanish homes so dark?

Spain – the land of sunshine. The country gets between 2,500 and 3,000 hours of sun per year on average, almost double the 1,600 hours the UK gets, for example.

You’d probably assume that finding a bright apartment in such a sunny country would be a piece of cake, but unless you’re renting or buying a modern home, it might be trickier than you realise.

More than one in ten Spaniards live in dwellings they feel are “too dark” – the highest percentage among all EU countries, according to figures from Eurostat.

As far as dark homes go, Spain is head and shoulders above the EU average of 5.9 percent, and higher than other nations with a high rate of gloomy homes such as France (9.5 percent), Malta (9.4 percent) and Hungary (7.7 percent).

At the other end of the brightly lit spectrum, it’s no surprise to see that countries with cloudier skies and darker winters such as Norway, Slovakia, Estonia, Czechia and the Netherlands have homes that let in plenty of natural light, and yet Spain’s sun-kissed Mediterranean neighbours Italy and Cyprus do make the most of the readily available light.

Dark homes are almost twice as common in Spain as the EU average. Graph: Eurostat.

So why are Spanish homes so dark?

Is it a case of hiding away from the sun, and keeping cool during the summer months? Or is it something else? 

Apartment blocks

The vast majority of Spaniards live in apartments as opposed to houses, often in tightly-packed cities with narrow streets.

In fact, in Spain 64.6 percent of the population lives in flats or apartments, second in the EU after Latvia (65.9 percent.)

By contrast the EU wide average is 46.1 percent.

By nature of apartment living, Spanish homes tend to get less sunlight.

Depending on whether they have an exterior or interior flat, they might not actually have a single window in the flat that faces the street.

If the apartment is on a lower floor, the chances of it receiving natural light are even lower. Internal patios can help to solve this to some extent, but only during the mid day and early afternoon hours. 

why are spanish homes so dark

A dark, narrow street in the centre of Palma de Mallorca. Photo: seth0s/Pixabay

Hot summers

During Spain’s scorching summer months, there’s no greater relief than stepping into a darkened apartment building lobby and feeling the temperature drop. 

In southern Spain, and in coastal regions, Spanish buildings were traditionally built to protect against the heat and hide away from the long sunny hours. White walled exteriors and dark interiors help to keep homes cool.

It’s often the case that bedrooms are put in the darkest, coolest part of the apartment, sometimes with just a box-window to allow for a breeze but no sunlight.

Spaniards’ obsession with blinds and shutters

Spain is pretty much the only country in Europe whose inhabitants still use blinds (persianas), even during the colder winter months.

In this case, rather than it just being down to keeping homes cool during the sweltering summer months, their usage is intrinsic to Spain’s Moorish past and the fact that they provide a degree of privacy from nosy neighbours. By contrast, northern Europeans with Calvinist roots such as the Dutch keep the curtains open to let in natural light and because historically speaking, keeping the inside of homes visible from the street represents not having anything to hide. But in Spain, the intimacy of one’s home is sacrosanct, especially when the neighbour in the apartment building opposite is less then ten metres away.

Keeping the blinds or shutters down also has the advantage of making it easier to have an afternoon nap (the siesta, of course) or to sleep in late after a long night out on the town. 

In any case, it seems hard to believe for some foreigners that many Spaniards are happy to live in the dark whilst spending time at home, regardless of whether they’re sleeping or not. 

A byproduct of this? Dark, gloomy homes.

why are spanish homes so dark

Spaniards aren’t fans of airing their dirty laundry, at least metaphorically speaking. Blinds have historically provided the privacy they’ve wanted from their homes. Photo: Quino Al/Unsplash

The long, dark corridors

Spanish apartments have plenty of quirks that seem odd to outsiders, from the light switches being outside of the room, the aforementioned shutters, the bottles of butane and last but not least, the never-ending corridors. 

Most Spanish homes built in the 19th and 20th century include these long pasillos running from the entrance to the end of the flat. They were meant to provide a separation between the main living spaces and the service rooms (kitchen, bathroom etc), easy access to all and better airing and light capabilities. But when the doors to the rooms are closed as often happens, these corridors become the opposite of what was intended: dark and airless.

Navigating these windowless corridors at night is akin to waking around blindfolded.

dark corridor spain

Light at the end of the tunnel? Dark corridors are a common feature of Spanish homes. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

Are Spaniards rethinking their dark homes?

Times are changing, and modern designs are experimenting with more spacious, light-filled, open-plan apartments, especially as the Covid-19 lockdown forced many Spaniards to reconsider their abodes. 

It’s also increasingly common to see property ads stressing that the property is diáfano, which means that natural light enters the home from all sides.

However, the vast majority of Spanish homes are still gloomy for the most part, often intentionally.

A combination of traditional building styles, the crowded nature of apartment block living, the use of shutters, the desire to keep homes private, and the long windowless corridors mean Spanish flats can seem dark if you’re new to the country, and with good reason.

Ultimately, it is worth remembering that Spanish society is one that largely lives its life outdoors. Living in smaller apartments, Spaniards generally spend less time at home and more time out and about in the street.

Native to a hot and sunny country as they are, Spaniards’ homes are a place of rest, relaxation and, crucially, sleep.

Spanish people have enough sunlight and heat in their lives; they like to live, therefore, in homes designed to keep cool and dark.

READ ALSO: Why are Spanish homes so cold?