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Mediterranean diet: pros and cons


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On this site, as in many others, we often talk about Mediterranean diet.

The term diet is however a misnomer because, rather than a real dietary program, it is a dietary style made up of rules and habits inspired by the Mediterranean tradition.

Birth of the Mediterranean diet

In the 1950s, Ancel Keys, an American nutritionist, realized that the populations of the Mediterranean basin were less susceptible to some pathologies than Americans.

From this observation was born the hypothesis that the Mediterranean diet was able to increase the longevity of those who followed it.

The same scholar, upon returning to his homeland, continued this research for years, which culminated in the writing of the book Eat well and stay well, the Mediterranean way”.

This book reported the results of the famous “Seven Countries Study”, which for twenty years monitored the diet and health conditions of 12,000 people aged between 40 and 60, residing in various countries such as Japan, USA, Holland , Yugoslavia, Finland and Italy.

Keys' initial hypothesis was at that point confirmed and the Mediterranean diet was proposed to the whole world as the ideal diet to reduce the incidence of the so-called “diseases of affluence”.

Starting from the 1970s, attempts were therefore made to spread the typical eating habits of the Mediterranean diet also in the United States. Cereals, vegetables, fruit, fish and olive oil were proposed as an alternative to a diet too rich in fats, proteins and sugars.

To summarize all the principles of the Mediterranean diet and appeal to the population, a simple food pyramid was proposed in the 1990s which reported the distribution in frequency and quantity of foods throughout the day. In particular, at its base were the foods to be consumed several times a day while at the top were the foods to be limited.

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Food pyramids

The image shows the Food Pyramid of the Mediterranean Diet revisited in a modern key.

Use: the cereals at the base of the pyramid, to be consumed at every meal, are considered wholemeal. Refined ones and potatoes are included among the foods to be consumed in moderation.

Key points

The Mediterranean diet focuses above all on the correct choice of foods, while the caloric aspect plays a secondary role. However, sobriety and moderation of portions represent an essential element for the correct application of this diet.

As a guide, an adult man would need around 2,500 calories every day, of which 55-65% should come from carbohydrates, 20-30% from lipids and only 10-15% from proteins.

The most important principles of the Mediterranean diet are contained in the following guidelines:

  • Greater consumption of vegetable proteins compared to animal proteins
  • Reduction of saturated (animal) fats in favor of unsaturated vegetable fats (olive oil)
  • Moderation of the global calorie quota
  • Increase in complex carbohydrates and strong moderation of simple ones
  • High intake of dietary fibre
  • Reduction of cholesterol intake
  • The consumption of white meat is prevalent compared to red meat, and is in any case limited to once or twice a week. However, the consumption of fish and legumes is greater
  • Sweets are consumed only on special occasions
  • The Mediterranean diet also includes a drastic reduction in the consumption of: sausages, spirits, white sugar, butter, fatty cheeses, mayonnaise, white salt, margarine, beef and pork (especially fatty cuts), lard and coffee.

What to eat?

Various examples of diets drawn up according to the canons of the Mediterranean diet are published on the site, here are some suggestions:

As we will see in a few lines, pasta, seasoned with the fruits of the earth, helps us live better and longer than a quick meal with various sweets and excessively fatty meats.

Foods of the Mediterranean Diet

Why is it good?

Some principles of the Mediterranean diet represented and still represent the best defense against diseases such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, myocardial infarction and stroke.

The diet based on bread, pasta (better if wholemeal), vegetables, fish, olive oil and fruit provides proteins, lipids and sugars with high nutritional value, low in cholesterol, saturated lipids and simple sugars; it is rich in vitamins, mineral salts and non-digestible fibre.

Fruit, vegetables and whole foods, precisely because they are extremely rich in antioxidants, have a protective action against cardiovascular diseases and some forms of cancer.

  • Tomatoes, for example, in addition to being typical ingredients of the Mediterranean diet, are rich in antioxidants and in particular lycopene, a substance capable of protecting against prostate cancer. The heating process during the preparation of tomato preserves increases its availability, making the pasta prepared with this food an excellent ally for our health.
  • Dietary fiber is also a very important component of the diet. With its action it prevents overeating by giving an early sense of satiety, regulates intestinal functions, modulates the absorption of nutrients and metabolic processes. It also has a detoxifying and anti-carcinogenic action, thanks also to the high vitamin content of the foods in which it is contained.
  • Fish is one of the most complete foods as it is rich in proteins, heart-friendly fats and mineral salts such as phosphorus, calcium, iodine and iron. Thanks to its nutritional principles it is one of the fundamental dishes of the Mediterranean diet.

Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet also represents a historical and cultural heritage of great importance and is proposed as a symbol of a cuisine whose simplicity, imagination and flavors are appreciated all over the world.

The typical dishes of the Mediterranean diet therefore represent first-rate gastronomic and nutritional excellence. The short cooking enhances the aromas and flavors of all the ingredients, each of which expresses strong nutritional and protective properties.

To know more:
Is the Mediterranean diet outdated?

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