Mediterranean diet is a traditional healthy cuisine which originated in the Mediterranean basin, once called “the cradle of society” by historians. It was the eating habits of people from Greece, Southern Italy, and Spain in the 1940s and 1950s. The main parts of this diet include proportionally high consumption of olive oil, fruits, vegetables, legumes and unrefined cereals with moderate to high consumption of fish, dairy products (mostly in the form of cheese and yogurt) and poultry. Wine is also consumed in moderate quantity and meat in low quantity. On the whole this diet is high in monounsaturated fat and dietary fiber and low in saturated fat. Thus, it is recognized as a nutritional model and is universally appreciated. Olive oil may be the main health-promoting component of the diet.
A Short history of Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean region holds all the ancient history of the world. It was the meeting place of people from the East and the West and eventually became the “good land” between the East and the West. The two cultures blended and modified with time as the history progressed. So, their eating habits merged in part as well.
Mediterranean diet was first publicized by Ancel Keys of the University of Minnesota, School of Power, and Margaret Keys (his wife and collaborator) in 1975. Keys pointed out the correlation between Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular disease for the first time. When Keys and his research team studied and compared Mediterranean diet with the eating habits of the most of the developed countries, including the US during that period, some identified it as the “Diet of the Poor”. Keys was surprised by the fact that the poor people of the Mediterranean region were leading a much healthier life than the wealthy people in New York, some of whom were their relatives who emigrated to the United States several years earlier. The diet, however, failed to gain widespread recognition until the 1990s.
Proof of Mediterranean diet’s healthful benefits were revealed in numerous studies conducted in Naples and Madrid, which was confirmed later by a study known as the Seven Countries Study, published in 1970. It was followed by a book-length report in 1980. The version understood by most people was presented by Walter Willett of Harvard University’s School of Public Health from the mid-1990s on.
Mediterranean diet: Components and its recommended intake
The Mediterranean diet can have different components in different countries of the Mediterranean basin depending on their religious, ethnic, economic and cultural diversities. But generally, the key components of this cuisine are same with regular physical activity. Olive oil is a key ingredient of Mediterranean diet. When choosing olive oil, please pick Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) for the maximum benefit.
Listed below are the typical components of a Mediterranean diet:
- High intakes of live oil (as a fat source), fresh fruits, vegetables, cereals (whole grains), nuts, legumes should be consumed daily.
- Fish, eggs and chicken have given preference than red meat and butter. Fish, poultry and dairy products (such as milk, cheese and yogurt) should be eaten few times a week for quality protein.
- Red meat is not excluded from the diet. It should be consumed few times a month.
- Replacing salt with spices and herbs for flavor and tastes.
- Optional moderate drinking of red wine.
This food habit is focused on natural and fresh plant food which contains essential nutrients like healthy fat, fiber, high vitamins and minerals but is low in sugar.
Why is Mediterranean Diet So Good for You?
We eat food to live, not live to eat food. A compromise on taste for health is sometimes necessary to achieve a certain goal with any diet. Sometimes a good combination of taste and health is also possible following a certain diet. Mediterranean diet offers foods that not only satisfy the tastes but preserves health to perform vital functions of your body. The benefits of Mediterranean diet do not depend on just one component of food but a combination of foods. It cuts out animal fats, red meats and processed foods that help you to live a healthy life. Research showed that in Mediterranean region where this diet is consumed has lower mortality rate. A review on 2017 found that this diet could lead to a reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases.
The reasons why is it so good, are:
Mediterranean Diet Keeps Your Heart Healthy
Extra virgin or virgin olive oil or plant oil is the major source of fat in Mediterranean diet. The least processed olive oil provides antioxidants and monounsaturated fat that helps to decrease LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) level. Hydrogenated oils or tans fats and saturated fats like butter are discouraged in Mediterranean diet.
Limited total fat consumption and eating healthier choices of fat is the main focus of the Mediterranean diet. By replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the risk of cardiovascular diseases can be reduced. Peanut and most of the plant oil like olive, canola, sunflower, corn, soya or vegetable oil contain monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in higher proportions.
Mediterranean Diet Lowers the Risk of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Scientists found that this diet can lower the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables provide more antioxidants that can protect the brain cells which may be the reason of Alzheimer’s. Inflammation is believed to be the key trigger of dementia. This diet may also help to decrease the inflammation.
Mediterranean Diet Lowers the Risk of Various Types of Cancer
Antioxidants can lower the risk of different types of cancer. Replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats can also reduce the risk of cancer. Women can have less risk of breast cancer by eating Mediterranean diet.
Mediterranean Diet Protects from Diabetes
Mediterranean diet can protect one from type 2 diabetes. It is very similar to the dietary guidelines for the diabetes patients specified by the American Diabetes Association (ADA). Research showed that this diet can lower the fasting blood glucose level.
8 Steps to Start a Mediterranean Diet
Follow the steps below to start a Mediterranean Diet:
- Eat seven to ten portions of fruits and vegetables daily.
- Replace white rice, bread and pasta with whole grains.
- Eat a handful of nuts as snack every day.
- Replace butter with extra virgin olive oil or any other plant oil.
- Replace salt with herbs and spices.
- Limit the intake of red meat to once a month.
- Eat grilled or barbecued fish or poultry twice a week.
- Eat lower fat dairy product few times a week.