The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean Sea is surrounded by an extraordinarily diverse group of countries: Italy, France, and Spain to the north, Greece, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria to the east, and to the south, the North African countries of Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Libya. This means that there isn’t a single “diet” that encompasses the entire Mediterranean region—the spice-laden dishes of Morocco bear little resemblance to the lemon and caper-laced cuisine of southern Italy. Rather, the Mediterranean diet is about what these cuisines have in common: a daily emphasis on vegetables and fruits, beans and lentils, whole grains, more seafood than meat and poultry, and heart-healthy Olive Oil. This is the essence of the Mediterranean way of eating.
Many studies have attributed several health benefits to this diet, with very encouraging findings, and the research is still on-going. As a result, over the last two decades, the Mediterranean diet has been gaining a lot of attention at an increasing rate due to a majority of health benefits such as less cardiovascular disease, promotion of healthy blood sugar levels, improvement of cognitive function, and even prevention of diseases like Alzheimer’s and certain types of cancer. Although the people living in Mediterranean countries tend to consume relatively high amounts of fat, they have far lower rates of cardiovascular disease, and one of the main explanations is thought to be that this diet is low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat and also full in dietary fiber.
Main components of the Mediterranean Diet are:
Daily physical activity
Spend time with family and friends
An emphasis on abundant plant foods (vegetables,
potatoes, beans, bread herbs, nuts, seeds, and other cereals)
Olive Oil as the principal source of fat
Zero to four eggs consumed per week
Daily dairy products (mainly cheese and yogourt from
sheep & goat milk)
Very little consumption of red meat
Low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry
Low to moderate amounts of wine
Fresh fruits every day
The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid
This Pyramid, which represents the optimal, traditional Mediterranean diet, is based on the dietary traditions of Crete and southern Italy in the 1960s. It is structured in the light of nutrition research carried out in 1993 and presented by Professor Walter Willet during the 1993 International Conference on the Diets of the Mediterranean, held in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid underlines the importance of the foods making up the principal food groups. Each of these individual food groups offers some, but not all, of the nutrients one needs.
Food from one group cannot replace that of another group. All the groups are necessary for a healthy diet.
The highest point of the Pyramid, meaning that its consumption is least advised, is occupied by red meat and just slightly below, but also of little importance, are sweets and pastries. Regular physical activity and proper hydration are vital to maintaining good health and optimal weight. Wine can be consumed in moderation, primarily with meals (1-2 glasses/day). It is optional and should be avoided whenever it puts the individuals or others at risk.
CONCLUSION: THE KISS* METHOD
It seems that all too often, despite our extraordinary advances in science, we find ourselves realizing that some of the oldest, simplest practices of our ancestors are the key to leading happy, healthy, and fulfilled lives. The Mediterranean diet is a perfect example of just that. Gathering around a table with family and friends to enjoy the day’s fresh catch with some garden vegetables, whole grain bread dipped in olive oil, along with a glass of red wine isn’t too complicated. Throw in a nice evening walk after dinner, and you’ve gone a long way to improving your health, without special supplements or suspect powders.
* - Keep It Simple Stupid