Although the Mediterranean way of eating is hundreds of years old it is only relatively recently that science has discovered its many benefits. Did you know that the Mediterranean Diet is:
• now considered one of the healthiest diets in the world?
• may help preserve memory and thinking abilities into old age?
• is recommended as a way of combating rising obesity?
• can help prevent cancer, heart disease and strokes?
• can help relieve symptoms of chronic conditions such as arthritis?
The main characteristics that make this diet so good for you include:
-the abundant consumption of fruit, vegetables and products from vegetable origin such as pasta, couscous, haricot beans, lentils,nuts;
-lots of fish and seafood and not much red meat and saturated fat.
These provide a good mix of carbohydrates and fats (monounsaturated from olive oil and polyunsaturated from oily fish and dried fruits) as well as many vital vitamins,minerals and nutrients which help to preserve health and offer protection against lung disease, allergies, asthma and even Alzeihmers and Parkinson’s.
However it is not only the food which makes this diet so beneficial but also the warm, sunny weather and active and social lifestyle which are important contributing factors.
Help relieve many ailments
In the UK, US and elsewhere there is a growing band of professional advocates recognising the benefits of eating in a more Mediterranean style. It appears on the NHS website as a recommended way to eat: “The Mediterranean diet has been associated with a better quality of life and good health, including a healthier heart, a longer lifespan and good weight management.” And it also states that: “A 2013 study found that people on a Mediterranean diet had a 30% lower risk of heart disease and stroke.” (http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/what-is-a-Mediterranean-diet.aspx)
Did you know that doctors advise patients recovering from heart conditions and cancer to avoid heavily processed foods and adopt a more Mediterranean style diet? Eric Low from Myloma UK says the reasons cancer survival rates in Southern Europe are significantly higher than in Northern and Western Europe are genetics, diet, climate lifestyle and culture. (BBC Food Programme/Diet and Cancer-19/05/2013)
If you suffer from arthritis: Arthritis Research recommends “eating a more Mediterranean style diet.” (http://www.arthritisresearchuk.org/arthritis-information/arthritis-and-daily-life/diet-and-arthritis/how-can-changing-my-diet-help-my-arthritis.aspx)
If you want to boost your brain power: a recent US study published in the journal Neurology, found that the Mediterranean Diet could help preserve cognitive abilities. According to The Alzheimers Society: “Studies have consistently shown that following a Mediterranean Diet packed with olive oil, vegetables and chicken and low in saturated fats may help stave off memory problems in later life.”
Help prevent obesity
The growing obesity problem affecting the Western world has led to researchers pointing to the Mediterranean Diet as the panacea to the problem affecting people of all ages and nationalities.
In a recent Harvard study participants put on a Mediterranean style diet over eighteen months lost more weight than the groups on the low fat and low carb diets. (http//: www.health.harvard.edu/fhg/updates/Mediterranean-diet-sails-well-in-the-USA.shtml)
So how did the Mediterranean Diet become so renowned?
The Seven Countries (or Cretan) study
led the way in proving that the typical Mediterranean diet with its high proportion of vegetables and fruits and low red meat consumption was highly protective against heart disease. Carried out over three decades, the study’s groundbreaking results which were published in the eighties, emphasised the relationship between good and bad fats and health. Dr Ancel Keys,the lead scientist was so convinced that he had found the best way of eating for health that he co-wrote several books with his biochemist wife, Margaret-“Eat Well and Stay Well” “How to Eat Well and Stay Well the Mediterranean Way.” “The Benevolent Bean”.
The couple practised what they preached by moving to the Mediterranean and buying a house in Naples. Keys lived to be 100 and according to the New York Times “remained intellectually active through his 97th year.” His wife died a few years later, aged 97. Not a bad advert for their beliefs! (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/23/obituaries/23keys.)
The Lyons study
In 1985, Serge Renaud, a French scientist was inspired by the Seven Countries study to research the reasons for Greek low heart mortality rates.
Previous heart attack victims were divided into different groups with the first given a typical Cretan (Mediterranean) diet high in vegetables, fruit and cereals and foods containing alpha linoleic acids such as walnuts; a little meat and wine and no milk, butter or cream. The other group was put on a typical low fat diet. The study achieved worldwide renown when it ended prematurely due to the significant difference between the two groups. Those on the Mediterranean style diet suffered 75% less heart attacks than those on the low fat diet (which had only declined by 25%.) It was therefore considered unethical to continue and the amazing results were published in The Lancet in 1994.
Professor Renaud viewed the Mediterranean diet as the antidote to the health problemsassociated with modern industrialised society. He wrote “Le Régime cretois: incroyable protecteur de notre santé” (The Cretan Diet incredible protector of our health) and Le Régime Santé (The Health Diet) He warned: “Don’t look for a pill that replaces the Cretan diet. There is no such thing.”
Since then there has been continued scientific interest in discovering the secrets of the diet. PREDIMED is the latest in a number of clinical trials to support the initial findings. In this latest study “participants at high risk of heart disease were randomly assigned to follow a Mediterranean diet supplemented with either olive oil or nuts, and those in the control group were asked to follow a low-fat diet. Earlier this year, results from this study provided the first evidence from a clinical trial to show that eating a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by 30%.”
It’s ironic how the Mediterranean area which has lagged behind its wealthier industrialised neighbours is now considered to hold the key to better health and lifestyle. If you’re wondering how you can make your diet a little more Mediterranean, click on Recipes for lots of ideas for delicious meals and snacks.
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