Mediterranean diet brings to mind an image of a beautiful blue sea, sunny skies, olives, colorful foods, delicious aroma and good health. But what is the Mediterranean diet. Why is it so special? Why is it getting so much attention?
The traditional Mediterranean diet offers an inviting cuisine that is unlike any other. Rich in colors and aromas, delicious in flavor, thoughts of which make your mouth water.
Although many weight loss advocates recommend to follow the Mediterranean diet to lose weight, it is not a weight loss diet in a conventional sense. The Mediterranean diet is a combination of sensible eating choices and an active lifestyle that brings about the benefits of a healthy life and longevity.
The Mediterranean cuisine dates back thousands of years and spans a large area. It carries the influences and culinary ideas from many countries including Greece, Southern Italy, Portugal, Spain, Crete, Southern France, parts of Syria, Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco and some others.
And, as the trading between the East and India grew, new foods, spices and herbs were introduced into the Mediterranean cooking pot.
The health benefits of the Mediterranean approach to food have been discovered, or rather re-discovered, more than half a century ago by Ancel Keys who found a correlation between this dietary approach and good health, including low cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Unfortunately, the Mediterranean diet failed to become widely recognized for its health benefits until the mid 1990s. The version we understand today came out of the research of Walter Willett. It is based on the foods and eating patterns of people on the island of Crete, rest of Greece and southern Italy of 1960s.
Contemporary Regions Of The Mediterranean Diet
The three regions on which the contemporary Mediterranean diet is based are the Crete island, rest of Greece and southern part of Italy
The reason the eating patterns from these regions were selected for the studies, is because the longevity in these geographical areas is among the highest in the world. As well, the rate of coronary heart disease was among the lowest in the world at that time.
The eating habits of the Mediterranean people rest on the consumption of fresh fruit, plant foods (vegetables), olive oil as the main source of fat, cheese and yogurt among the dairy products, and fish and poultry.
Farming is difficult in the Mediterranean and the people are not known for cattle raising. Dairy, as we know it, is not as popular there as it is in North America. Butter is not used. Instead of butter olive oil is used as a spread. As well, they consume very little, if any, red meat.
It is also interesting that the inhabitants of the Mediterranean region consume very few eggs, ranging from zero to four.
The people of the Mediterranean like their wines and they enjoy wine in low to moderate amounts with their meals.
The consumption of processed foods in these geographical areas was nil, at the time when the studies were conducted.
Macronutrient Content Of The Mediterranean Diet Foods
- 55-60% carbohydrate consisting mostly of complex carbohydrates and fiber. They includes breads, pasta, rice, legumes, vegetables, nuts and grain
- 10-15% protein that comes primarily from fresh fish, shell fish, poultry and legumes. This is a relatively low level of protein and it is very similar to that advocated by the American Heart Association
- 25-30% fat which is mostly monounsaturated fat from olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids from the fish and shell fish.
However, just eating healthful foods is not the answer to perfect health. An important element is the lifestyle that the inhabitants of these regions lead. They are very active people, working in the fields to grow their food and raise their livestock.
In essence, the Mediterranean diet is not just a diet. It is a way of life. It is the combination of healthy eating that provides a sense of well being and of a healthy, active lifestyle which together bring about the heath benefits ascribed to the Mediterranean diet.
With a little bit of modification and some imagination we can adopt the Mediterranean diet foods and practices in our homes. We too can eat well and healthy, enjoy our foods that we prepare ourselves and stop relying on processed foods. Add some activity to our lifestyles and we too can boost our well being and cut down the risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome (including obesity, and diabetes), as well as prevent the risk of a host of other chronic diseases.
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