There Mediterranean diet is one of the most popular and sustainable eating patterns in the world, best known for its health benefits.

This nutritional stylecodified in the 1950s by the American scientist Ancel Benjamin Keys and inspired by the eating habits of some countries overlooking the Mediterranean such as Italy, Greece and Spain, has been studied and praised for its role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. So much so that in 2010 UNESCO included the Mediterranean diet in the list of intangible heritage of humanity.

Let's find out together what the Mediterranean diet is, how it was born, what foods it includes and what the health benefits are.

History of the Mediterranean diet

the Mediterranean diet

The ancient peoples overlooking the Mediterranean, such as Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, they shared a common thread in their diet: they used above all plant foods and unprocessed, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. Furthermore, they made extensive use of olive oil, a symbol of prosperity and wealth and still a symbolic ingredient of the Mediterranean diet.

As time passed, the daily diet was enriched with new ingredients: from the Middle East and Asia, through trade, spices, herbs, lentils, vegetables and fruits, which added variety to the table. The Mediterranean region, strategic for trade and traffic, became a hub for the exchange of goods, including food products, between Europe, Africa and Asia.

However, it was necessary to wait until the 20th century for the Mediterranean diet to begin to take shape as a precise nutritional model, associated with a healthy lifestyle.

Birth of the Mediterranean diet

the Mediterranean diet

In the 1950s, the American epidemiologist Ancel Keys (inventor of the K ration, i.e. the American army meal) began to study the eating style of some regions of the Mediterranean, including southern Italy (in particular Cilento, where the Living Museum of the Mediterranean diet is still located today) and the Greece (particularly the island of Crete).

Since the Second World War had just ended, the daily diet was poor and frugal and work in the fields required a lot of physical activity. They were mostly eaten plant foods and few of animal origin: a lot bread or polenta, wild herbs, potatoes, legumes, olives, cabbage, cheese, as well as soups, omelettes and cod.

He was the first to notice the correlation between nutrition and health and how a low blood cholesterol level corresponded to a reduced risk of heart attack.

Discover the seven capitals of the Mediterranean diet according to UNESCO

Seven Countries Study

Mediterranean diet

It is due to Keys the Seven Countries Studythat is, a pioneering study that lasted years 16 groups of men in seven countries around the world (USA, Holland, Finland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece and Japan), for a total of 12 thousand individuals, followed for decades and with control analyzes every five years.

The goal was to compare lifestyle, nutrition and onset of cardiovascular diseases. The result? It was shown that the consumption of saturated fats was strongly correlated with coronary heart disease, while a dietary style with a high intake of monounsaturated fats, such as the olive oil, lowered the incidence of mortality from heart disease.

Studies of this type aroused great interest and soon Mediterranean diet became a topic of discussion among nutritionists, epidemiologists and health professionals. In the 1990s, a similar WHO study confirmed the same results: the unique combination of ingredients, such as olive oil, whole grains and fruitwas praised as a key driver of health benefits.

What is the Mediterranean diet

Mediterranean diet

What is the Mediterranean diet, in summary? It is an eating style characterized by a high consumption of seasonal fruit and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteinsas well as a moderate consumption of Lproduce, wine and olive oil. All associated with one active lifestyle, which therefore involves physical activity. And, crucially, also from an idea of sharing food which concerns the social sphere: eating is not only nourishment but also a convivial act, which is done together.

According to theUNESCOin fact, “the Mediterranean diet represents a set of skills, knowledge, practices and traditions that go from landscape to table, including cultivation, harvesting, fishing, conservation, transformation, preparation and, in particular, consumption of food. It promotes social interaction, since the shared meal is the basis of social customs and shared holidays in a given community. The Mediterranean diet is based on respect for the territory and biodiversity, and guarantees the conservation and development of traditional activities and crafts linked to fishing and agriculture in Mediterranean communities”.

The food pyramid of the Mediterranean diet

food-pyramid-mediterranean-diet

At the basis of the Mediterranean diet is the food pyramida scheme that helps us understand how we should eat, which foods to favor and which ones we should limit.

Fundamentals of the food pyramid: at every meal we should eat seasonal fruit and vegetables, cereals (including whole grains) such as spelled, barley, rice, pasta, bread, fundamental for their supply of fibre, vitamins and minerals. Olive oil is another pillar of the food pyramid, thanks to its content of monounsaturated fats and polyphenols that support heart health. It should be used as a condiment, preferably raw, together with spices and aromatic herbs.

Healthy proteins: Going up one level, the pyramid presents protein sources such as legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and white meat, to be consumed regularly but in moderate portions. Legumes, in particular, are appreciated for their supply of vegetable proteins and fibre, which contribute to a prolonged feeling of satiety and regular digestion.

Dairy products: Dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese, they occupy a place in the Mediterranean diet but are to be consumed in moderation. Rich in calcium and protein, they are essential for bone health and the maintenance of muscle mass.

Red and sweet meats: At the top of the pyramid, we find red meats, sweets and high-calorie foods that should be consumed sporadically. This limitation helps prevent health problems such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

An often overlooked element: The Mediterranean food pyramid also includes an aspect that is not strictly nutritional: physical activity. Essential for overall well-being, regular physical activity is an invitation to integrate movement into your daily routine, just like healthy food, to improve your quality of life.

Characteristics of the Mediterranean diet

things-the-mediterranean-diet

There Mediterranean diet it's not just a nutritional model, but a philosophy of life. It promotes a varied and balanced diet, rich in plant foods, whole grains and healthy fats, with a moderate consumption of animal proteins and dairy products, and limits the intake of red meat and sweets. A true treasure for those seeking not only to feed themselves, but to live well.

As reported on the Ministry of Health website, we should:

  • Consume five servings a day fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Use the dried nuts as a healthy snack
  • Increase consumption of legumes, for example in soups, broths or combined with pasta and rice
  • To incorporate Whole grains
  • Use theextra virgin olive oil as a basic condiment
  • As a source of protein, prefer fish – the blue one is better – e White meat
  • To consume wine moderately
  • Reduce consumption of sweets
  • To practise physical activity regularly

The benefits of the Mediterranean diet

what-is-the-mediterranean-diet

The Mediterranean diet has been extensively studied and praised for its potential to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. The benefits of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Reducing the risk of heart disease
  • Improvement of cardiovascular health
  • Reducing the risk of diabetes
  • Improvement of intestinal health
  • Reducing the risk of cancer

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