The Mediterranean eating is not so much a single “diet” but more of an eating “pattern” varying based on location and availability of local foods. Mediterranean diet is a way of eating, of course, but it is also a true part of a culture that you can find in a specific geographical area that includes not only Italy, but also Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Croatia and Northern Africa coast.
Given its regional origin, Mediterranean diet has common characteristics that we should recap in:
- Abundant consumption of plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
- Olive oil as the primary source of dietary fat
- Low-fat dairy products, eggs, fish, and poultry consumed in low to moderate amounts.
- Very limited consumption of red meats and sweets.
- Moderate alcohol consumption, typically red or white wine consumed at meals or for special occasions.
Medical and nutritional researches have been demonstrating that Mediterranean diet is the healthiest way of eating and it is recommended to prevent some important diseases – in particular cardiovascular diseases -, but also to reduce the risk of cancer, Parkinson and Alzheimer’s disease.
There is still much to understand regarding the mechanisms behind the health benefits of a Mediterranean eating pattern. Given the complexity of identifying cause and effect relationships in nutrition-focused studies, it’s likely researchers will continue to explore the components of the Mediterranean eating pattern for some time. A very interesting new aspect of Mediterranean way of eating object of studies is the social engagement. According to last researches, the social activities link to eating, for example shared meals, are part of the benefits of Mediterranean diet.
Other healthy tips related to Mediterranean food habits are:
- Moderate portions and swap the types of fats in your diet to include more monounsaturated fats such as from olive oil.
- Cooking vegetarian almost one day par week and consider food of animal origins – meat, fish, poultry – as a side dish and not a primary part of a meal.
- Remember: fish is healthier protein source than meat
- Reduce the consume of white sugar (including sugar beverages) and prefer natural sweet source such as fresh fruits.
- Limit alcohol consumption and prefer a good glass of wine than cocktails.
- Remember to enjoy your foods with friends and family
Out of curiosity
The term “Mediterranean diet” was used for the first time in the 50’s by an American scientist (Ancel Benjamin Keys) who has long studied the influence of nutrition on health and he is known for having developed the famous “K factor”, that is balanced meals supplied to all the soldiers of the US military during World War II.
Furthermore, in 2010 UNESCO recognized the Mediterranean diet as intangible heritage. UNESCO declared that:
The Mediterranean diet constitutes a set of skills, knowledge, practices and traditions ranging from the landscape to the table, including the crops, harvesting, fishing, conservation, processing, preparation and, particularly, consumption of food.