The Mediterranean diet is a modern nutritional model inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of some of the countries of the Mediterranean basin, particularly Greece and Southern Italy.
Common to the diets of these regions are a high consumption of fruit and vegetables, bread, wheat and other cereals, olive oil, fish, and Red Wine. The diet is often cited as a beneficial one for that it is low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat and dietary fibre.
Although it was first publicised in the 1950s by the American doctor Ancel Keys, the Mediterranean diet failed to gain widespread recognition until the 1990s.It is based on what from the point of view of mainstream nutrition is considered a paradox: that although the people living in Mediterranean countries tend to consume relatively high amounts of fat, they have far lower rates of cardiovascular disease than in countries like the United States, where similar levels of fat consumption are found.
One of the main explanations is thought to be the large amount of olive oil used in the Mediterranean diet. Unlike the high amount of animal fats typical to the American diet, olive oil lowers cholesterol levels in the blood. It is also known to lower blood sugar levels and blood pressure. In addition, the consumption of red wine is considered a possible factor, as it contains flavonoids with powerful antioxidant properties.
Dietary factors may be only part of the reason for the health benefits enjoyed by these cultures. Genetics, lifestyle, and environment may also be involved.
Some questions have been raised as to if the diet provides adequate amounts of all nutrients, particularly calcium and iron. Nonetheless, green vegetables, a good source of calcium and iron, are used in the Mediterranean diet as well as goat cheese, a good source of calcium.
Key features of the Mediterranean diet:
High consumption of breads, pasta, rice, couscous, polenta, bulgur and potatoes
High consumption of fruits (3-4 pieces a day), legumes and vegetables (5 different varieties)
Moderate amounts of grilled and steamed fish
Moderate amounts of olive oil - consumed with fresh vegetables and on salads
Small portions of lean red meat with no visible fat, new fashioned pork
Alcohol in small amounts
Regular physical activity
High intake of antioxidants
Recommended olive oil:
Extra virgin olive oil (highly recommended)
Any commercial brand of olive oil
Fats to avoid: