Mediterranean Diet

As diet fads come and go, the Mediterranean Diet remains one most beneficial diets one could adhere to. With its emphasis on plant-based foods, lean meats, and olive oil, the Mediterranean Diet is easily the gold standard of eating habits that promotes lifelong good health.

Research proves over and over again that people who put an emphasis on produce, fish, whole grains, and good fats such as as extra virgin olive oil, not only weigh less, but also have a decreased risk for heart disease, depression, and dementia.

A Diet of Tradition

Although the origins of the “Mediterranean Diet” we know today can be traced back to ancient Romans and Greeks, it’s become part of a contemporary lifestyle thanks to research begun in the mid-1950s.

American scientist Ancel Keys of the University of Minnesota, famously published the results of his “Seven Countries Study” in 1970, examining the relationship between lifestyles, nutrition and cardiovascular disease in several countries. The study revealed that the Mediterranean Diet was responsible for a very low rate of cholesterol and coronary heart disease.

Keys’ results were astonishing at the time, as they revealed that the populations of small towns in southern Italy were, against all predictions, much healthier than the wealthy citizens of New York and other regions. Keys attributed this to their diet, which was rich in olive oil, bread, pasta, vegetables, herbs, garlic, red onions, fish and little red meat.

Olive Oil in the Mediterranean Diet

Decades after the the Seven Countries Study, the Mediterranean Diet has earned additional praise from researchers and numerous studies. The dietary habits of people in Spain, Italy, and Greece, continue to be positively linked to chronic diseases. Benefits linked to the traditional Mediterranean Diet include increased life expectancy, a healthier weight, improved brain function, fewer symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis; lower risks of certain cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes; and lower levels of blood pressure and LDL cholesterol.

The Mediterranean Diet is largely characterized by the balanced use of foods rich in fiber, antioxidants and unsaturated fats, and a reduced consumption of animal fats and cholesterol. When Ancel Keys visited small towns in Italy, he found that olive oil was the main source of fat. Extra virgin olive oil was used on everything, as the Italians he met ate high amounts of fresh vegetables sprinkled with olive oil every day.

Olive oil is perhaps the main ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. Research continues to point to its ability to prevent cardiovascular disease. The phenols found in olive oil have been proven to be powerful antioxidants with anti-inflammatory and anti-thrombotic properties, and some monounsaturated fatty acids found in olive oil are protective for cardiovascular disease. It’s no wonder why some have referred to olive oil as the “sweeper of arteries”.

Not Just a Diet, But a Lifestyle

As research continues to grow and reinforce links to numerous health benefits, it’s important to note that the Mediterranean Diet is not a magic bullet. It’s about maintaining a lifestyle concerned with eating a simple, plant-based diet, based on regional, local, nutrient-dense foods.

The Mediterranean Diet is also about getting the most out of foods by savoring flavors and enjoying fresh options. By looking to the traditional Mediterranean Diet, we can bring many of its benefits into our lifestyle for greater health and well-being.