The Mediterranean diet has definitely taken hold everywhere around the world, becoming a real trend, but what does it really mean? This diet represents the expression of the lifestyle developed by the population of the Mediterranean area over the years. In fact, the word Diet that in Greek is “Diaita” means way of living. Considered as a treasure for all the humanity, the Mediterranean diet was inscribed in 2010 in the list of Intangible and Cultural Heritage of the UNESCO.
A piece of history
In the late ‘50s a US physiologist Dr Ancel Keys, considered the father of the Mediterranean Diet, designed an experiment called “Seven Countries Study”, where he discovered that this dietary pattern was leading to a better life expectancy, especially for the population of the Mediterranean area, compared to other countries. Unfortunately, this lifestyle was abandoned in the Sixties and Seventies during the economic boom, because it was considered poor and unattractive. Also, women who started working in factories, didn’t have enough time to spend in the kitchen and this opened the market to the processed food, which required less cooking time. However, starting from the ‘90s, the Mediterranean Diet has come back in fashion, becoming one of the healthiest nutritional models available in the market.
The pillars of the Mediterranean diet
The main pillar of this diet consists in consuming mostly fresh fruit and vegetable, whole grains, nuts, olive oil, lean sources of animal protein, a reduced amount of red meat and saturated fats, and few processed foods or refined sugars. Although consuming those foods in the right proportion has a positive impact on health status, the traditions of the Mediterranean population play an important role as well. First, the food is usually consumed in a relaxed atmosphere with family and friends, and this can bring benefit also to your digestive system, as you tend to chew better the food. Secondly, the food is prepared at home from scratch following traditional recipes, using fresh and seasonal ingredients, local herbs and spices. By cooking your own meal you can control the total amount of calories preventing weight gain; selecting fresh ingredients allows you to bring more nutrients in your daily diet and the use of herbs and spices reduce the salt intake, enhancing the flavour of the food. Lastly, regular exercise is always incorporated on a daily base because it is proven that it helps increasing the good cholesterol level and maintain a healthy body weight.
Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet
A recent review shows that following the Mediterranean Diet may improve overall health status reducing the risk of various diseases.
Fruit and vegetable contain antioxidants and vitamins, which may help our body to protect against cells damage caused by free radicals. Fruits and vegetables as well as legumes and oat contain soluble fiber, which demonstrated reduction of LDL blood cholesterol, improvement of blood sugar level and insulin sensitivity in clinical studies. Wholegrain products are higher in insoluble fiber helpful to regulate the intestinal transit. In addition, fiber with prebiotic effect, contained mostly in asparagus, legumes, oats, garlic, onion, bananas wholegrains and nuts, has been associated with the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut, increasing the natural resistance to pathogens.
The Extravirgin Olive Oil is the protagonist of the Mediterranean diet. Studies suggests that due to its high content of oleic acid and polyphenols it may reduce inflammation, lower the blood pressure, reduce the risk of cancer and protect against type 2 diabetes. On top of that, it is considered the best for low and medium-heat cooking because of its large amount of monounsaturated fats, which are quite resistant to high temperature.
Nuts and seeds protect the cardiovascular system and they are largely used as a natural supplements because they are high in minerals and proteins.
Lastly, omega-3 fatty acids, which are packed in oily fish, have anti-inflammatory properties and sustain brain functions as widely supported by scientific research.
Nowadays quite a number of different diets are available in the market, but overall the Mediterranean diet still remains one of the healthiest diets to follow especially in the long term.
Veronica Cavallini is an Italian Dietitian holding a BSc in Dietetic and a MSc in Human Nutrition and Food Science. She is a full member of the Singapore Nutrition and Dietetic Association and Accredited Dietitian of Singapore and Italy. She has a special interest in the treatment of gastrointestinal conditions, food allergies and intolerances, obesity and eating disorders. She likes to travel, especially in developing countries where she was involved in different programs to improve quality of life in populations at risk of malnutrition. She is currently working as a Nutritional Consultant at Andrea’s Digestive, Colon, Liver and Gallbladder Clinic. For more information please visit www.andrea-digestive-clinic.com