The Mediterranean Diet - Oh So Tasty
Yes, there is more to the Mediterranean than sun, beach and wine... there is the Mediterranean Diet...
For many years now the inhabitants of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea - (such as southern Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon and Israel) have been considered to be among the healthiest in the world enjoying both high life expectancy plus showing health benefits like low incidence of chronic diseases and in recent years many studies have been made to discover why and if it has to do with more than just the sunshine!
Traditionally, their diet has been based on the livestock, fishing and agriculture of their land and reliance on foods from a rich diversity of plant sources including fruits, whole grains, nuts, beans and seeds. In Northern Africa for example, couscous, vegetables and legumes form the centre of the diet, in the Eastern Mediterranean, bulgar and rice along with vegetables and legumes and in Southern Europe, the basis is formed by rice, polenta, pasta with plenty of vegetables and legumes and everywhere bread is eaten at most meals (but without butter!).
Nutritional research has shown the advantages of a diet HIGH in vegetables, fruits, grains, monounsaturated fats and various complex carbohydrates but LOW in cholesterol and certain forms of saturated fat and led to greater public awareness.
It is true that these foods, like those foods consumed by the rest of Europe and the United States are rich in fat, BUT... of a different type!
Let me explain this: There are three types of dietary fats:
· Saturated fats, (from animals)
· Polyunsaturated fats (from plants, seeds, nuts and vegetables)
· mono saturated fats (olive oil). Olive oil isn't only delicious (and somewhat expensive) but it's also rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D, E and K as well as iron.
The health and therapeutic benefits of olive oil are vast: namely?
· it does not have the same cholesterol raising effects as the saturated fats found in animal fats
· it contains anti-oxidants that discourage clogging of the arteries and chronic diseases including cancer
· and it also has lubricating properties in so far as it acts as a laxative, aids digestion and protects the intestine from ulcers.
Now, this "Mediterranean diet" - (though not exactly a diet in the ´slimmers´ sense of the word), has led to a style of eating that is a move away from relying on manufactured food stuffs to recipes consisting of natural and healthy ingredients eaten raw or minimally processed.
So WHAT typically comprises "The Mediterranean Diet?"
When, in 1993, The Harvard University School of Public Health and Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust (a Boston based educational organisation) held a conference on the Mediterranean diet and its influence on public health, reviewing data concerned with the dietary traditions of those countries bordering the Mediterranean, the committee developed the "Mediterranean Food Guide Pyramid", the main points of which are summarised as follows:
· plenty of food from plant sources, including fruit, vegetables, breads and grains, beans, nuts and seeds
· use of Olive Oil replacing other fats and oils
· fresh fruit daily
· Seasonally fresh and locally grown foods in preference to processed foods
· Saturated fat should constitute less than 20 per cent of total calories
· small amounts of cheese and yoghurt (containing live cultures which may contribute to good health)
· daily moderate amounts of fish and poultry weekly and only a few eggs
· very little red meat
· a glass of wine (especially red) with meals as it contains anti-oxidants and has cholesterol reducing properties (although optional as there are contraindications for women related to breast cancer)
Natalia Kim is a journalist for