Mediterranean Diet: The nourishing treasure of Greece promotes health

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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