The Mediterranean diet is one of many treasures from Greece. It is highly recommended and promoted by the World Health Organization due to its health‐promoting qualities. Time to integrate some of the Greek lifestyle into your daily life!
In 1950s, Ancel Keys a.k.a. Mr. Colesterol, a leading scholar, made the Mediterranean diet widely known while carrying out the Seven countries study (SCS). In this study he analysed the dietary habits and lifestyle factors of residents in 16 regions of 7 countries including Greece (the rural population of Crete). The aim of the epidemiological study was to investigate the relation between the dietary pattern in the 7 countries and the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD). During the study he realized that the inhabitants of Crete were found to have the lowest coronary heart disease (CHD) and cancer mortality rate, and enjoyed an overall longer life expectancy. Looking at what the people in each of the 7 countries were doing differently, he discovered that the Cretans followed a unique diet, an important part of their traditional lifestyle. It was clearly the diet that made them stand out from the rest concluded Ancel Keys, and after further investigation he also found one of the main reasons why: the Cretans’ very moderate intake of saturated fats, i.e. those found in milk and meat. Saturated fats pose a serious health risk, whereas the monounsaturated fats found in vegetable oils have exactly the opposite effect, beneficial as they are for people’s well‐being. To Mr. Cholesterol is was now clear: their diet, of which the fat intake is only one aspect, and a fair doses of daily physical activity have given the Cretans their exceptional position in the study.
With this in mind, and in order to make this dietary pattern more understandable to the general public, the Mediterranean pyramid was ‘built’ on the diet’s concept. The Mediterranean pyramid includes all food groups and promotes balance in the food consumption, as such providing a roadmap for a well‐functioning body and the reduction of health problems. The Mediterranean diet includes high intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains, all health‐promoting ingredients. When following the standard Mediterranean diet there is no reason for severe restrictions with regards to the consumption of fat. However, the fat consumed should originate from vegetable oils and mainly from olive oil. The Mediterranean diet is low in saturated fat (9% of the daily energy intake) and the total fat intake should not exceed 30‐40% per day.
Adoption of the Mediterranean diet has proven to be a successful strategy when one needs to lose weight. Furthermore, the well‐balanced structure of the diet, with a high consumption of fish, olive oil and vegetables, also prevents the development of a number of diseases already mentioned above. Therefore heart disease, chronic conditions like hypertension, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes can be successfully averted, whereas the risks of Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease and rheumatoid arthritis are notably reduced. It goes without saying that the Mediterranean diet significantly reduces the risk of early death.
It is important that people start learning about the basics of healthy nutrition from early childhood onwards, and keep on building awareness and consciousness throughout all stages of life. It’s all about making the right choices!
Today, the diet of Western societies is far from this dietary pattern, and as a consequence people are unfortunately, confronted on a daily basis with many of the aforementioned diseases and challenges. So to improve health and increase 3 longevity, changing from a Western to a Mediterranean diet may pay off! Afterall, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said it already thousands of years ago: Let your food be your medicine, and let your medicine be your food.’ On top of it, adhering to the Mediterranean diet is pure pleasure for the taste buds.... Enjoy your meal!
Author: Giota Christodoulou (Diploma of Clinical Nutrition in the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens)
Hellenic ministry of Health
Seven Countries study –Ancel Key