The Mediterranean Diet has become accepted as one of the top diets in the world. We have often looked at the diets of those people who seem to be the healthiest and wondered what it was they were eating. This particular one appeals to those who are looking to reduce their risk of developing cancer and cardiovascular troubles.
The basis of the diet is of course lots of plant-based foods -fruit and vegetables, nuts, legumes like peas and beans, whole grains and plenty of exercise. There is very little consumption of any meat products although charcuterie forms a major aspect of Mediterranean culture. The diet though does allow for some lean protein such as fish and chicken. Generally fish and poultry might be eaten twice a week
There is a moderate consumption of dairy products mostly in the form of cheese and yogurt but not enough to continually elevated levels of blood cholesterol. Olive oil is also consumed in higher quantities than expected. What might surprise is the inclusion of some alcohol but then it is red wine.
As a consequence of the diet, nutritionally it is rich in vitamins. There is clinical evidence to indicate the risk of heart disease is reduced, as is cancer, various dementias including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
The Mediterranean Sea is bordered by many countries in Southern Europe and North Africa. Countries include France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Israel, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. All the peoples in these countries have different takes on what constitutes a Mediterranean diet but they do have some similarities. Part of the benefit also reflects lifestyle and what is best described as a less frenetic approach to living. Oldways, a nonprofit food think tank in Boston, which has been working with the Harvard School of Public Health, has developed a consumer-friendly Mediterranean diet pyramid. Check out the pyramid as it gives you a sense of the proportions of various foods eaten in the diet.
UNESCO recognised the diet as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in November 2010 for countries such as Greece, Spain, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Cyprus and Croatia but of course not France or the Lebanon which have their own unique styles. It was chosen because in their words:-
“The Mediterranean diet involves a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the haring and consumption of food.”
The Seven Countries Study
The diet was first advertised and publicized by the American biologist Dr Ancel Keys which was known as Mr Cholisterol. he based his findings on the ‘Seven countries study’ in the USA around the late 1940s. He identified that diet had a major role in development of heart disease. His findings really gained credence in the 1990s but were being worked upon from the 50s onwards.
The study was one of the first to make comparisons in diets from different countries. It was also one of the most extensive. It allowed for comparisons of different styles and cuisines but looked at fundamental parameters. One key finding was that countries like the USA, Finland and the Netherlands had much higher rates of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks than others. The eastern side of Finland was considerably higher than the west even though their cholesterol levels in people were similar. Some countries such as Crete had low heart disease levels even though the blood cholesterol levels were high enough however much of it could be traced to lifestyle and eating habits which drew attention to the Mediterranean diet.
Subsequent studies showed that the diet is one of the most healthy and rivals the Okinawan diet. It almost protects people from heart attacks, rising levels of obesity and cancer, especially colon cancer.
The issue with the Mediterranean diet is that whilst it is a very good diet to follow, modern lifestyles have led us to over consume large quantities of fast foods. These are rich in saturated fats but low in fiber.
What Is A Balanced Mediterranean Diet ?
One of the most important components is extra virgin olive oil. Make full use of olive oil in your dressings and even cook with it. The oil is extracted from the fruit of the species Olea europaea which is central to the Mediterranean Diet. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) which are viewed as healthy dietary fats. Indeed the oil is one of the principal sources of dietary fat in this diet. Consuming MUFAs are better for you than consuming saturated fats and trans fats.
Plenty of vegetables especially green and leafy types, plenty of fresh fruit which can be consumed in snacks and desserts, lots of cereals which are mostly as grains, nuts and legumes.
If you are consuming meats, then sea fish is ideal especially if it is oily, other types of seafood, dairy products, some chicken – usually grilled, dairy which is cheese and yogurt. The value with fish is its packed full of omega-3 fatty acids. Add fish twice a week to the diet. Look for salmon, tuna, trout, herring and mackerel because these are all great sources of protein and fish oils.
Red wine can also be included. Wine is full of anthocyanins which have a potent antioxidant value.
What isn’t eaten is red meat, eggs, processed meat and sweets. If you cannot go through lihfe without meat then lean meat is best. There is also a need for plenty of exercise.
To make up for a perceived lack of flavour with this diet means ramping up the tastier components, use plenty of herbs and spices. It also helps to reduce the need for salt in any dishes. You can spice up a meal extremely easily without having any feelings of guilt.