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What is the Mediterranean Diet?

  • To understand what the Mediterranean diet is, one must grasp the role of cereals, olives, and wheat—its three main pillars. 
  • According to many experts, this diet is one of the healthiest in the world due to the properties of the foods that compose it.

What is the Mediterranean diet? 

 

In 2023, the US and World Report declared the Mediterranean diet as the most balanced in the world, recommending it above the dietary model typical of the United States. However, it remains largely unknown to people from countries far from the coasts of the Mare Nostrum, as the Romans called it.

The origins of this diet are diffuse and depend on the source consulted. What is certain is that its creation is based on the foods that have been consumed in Mediterranean countries for many centuries. The birth of the Mediterranean diet seems to have occurred in the second half of the 20th century when nutrition experts realized that the inhabitants of southern European countries had better dietary conditions than those in the north, contrary to traditional beliefs. This discovery is traditionally attributed to the American couple, physiologists Ancel and Margaret Keys.

The Mediterranean menu is based on three basic pillars: cereals, olives, and vines. These foods, whose cultivation fits perfectly with the Mediterranean soil conditions, are typically accompanied by vegetables, legumes, dairy, and fish. All this, combined with a reduced intake of meat, butter, and sugar, makes the Mediterranean diet a very balanced option.

What is the Mediterranean diet eating pyramid?
Mediterranean diet eating pyramid.

Benefits of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is the result of the immense mix of cultures that have inhabited the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Muslims, and Romans are just a few of the many that have left their mark on Mediterranean cuisine over the years. This, combined with the high-quality soil of Mediterranean countries, has resulted in one of the best diets.

Historically, the Mediterranean diet has been seen as one of the healthiest in the world. In fact, the origin of its research by the Keys couple was due to the observation of a very low rate of coronary incidents on the island of Crete, which led to the Seven Countries Study and first confirmed the advantages of the Mediterranean diet. Its combination of ingredients and the synergies of their compounds have proven to be very beneficial for the body, reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, among other conditions.

In addition to its health benefits, many experts highlight the flexibility of its menu, which includes a wide variety of foods. These mainly include plant-based foods, while rejecting others more harmful to the human body, such as red meats, sweets, or processed foods. Among the different models, the truly important thing is to maintain a dietary balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in a 15-35-55 ratio.

Importance of olive oil in the Mediterranean diet

Olive oil is traditionally a Mediterranean food. Its origin seems to be in Syria, although its cultivation spread even before the birth of Christ and arrived in Spain, which has become the world’s leading exporter. According to the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food, Spain exports 45% of the world’s total volume. This has also made it a symbol of national culture, as its use dates back to Roman times and has been useful for multiple needs, from food to lighting.

The use of olive oil in cooking instead of other fats like butter or margarine is one of the advantages of the Mediterranean diet. This is because oleic acid is rich in vitamin E and polyphenols, which are extremely beneficial for the body in terms of potential problems related to cholesterol, high blood pressure, or cell oxidation.

Oleiculture in countries like Italy, Greece, Spain, or Turkey is very widespread, and its oil is used moderately in practically every meal of the day. It can be used to accompany breakfast, serve as a frying agent, as a dressing, or in any form imaginable. Likewise, it is common to see table olives in bars, as it is typical to consume them marinated.

What is the Mediterranean diet?
Main ingredients of the Mediterranean diet.

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