The Mediterranean diet is the diet par excellence, recommended by nutritionists and dieticians. This is not a dietary program, as many believe, but it is a true lifestyle, typical of the Mediterranean basin areas, and today it is exported everywhere: in 2010 it was proclaimed by UNESCO as "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity". The Mediterranean diet brings many health benefits, it is in fact a healthy and balanced diet that does not prohibit anything, as it offers a perfect balance of all essential nutrients for the well-being of our body: it protects against cardiovascular diseases and provides for mainly the consumption of foods of vegetable origin. Furthermore, it is a diet with a low environmental impact compared to other food models and it also has social and economic benefits. The Mediterranean diet is a culture that has been handed down for generations in the areas overlooking the Mediterranean. Let's discover then what are the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and why it is considered the best diet in the world.
What is the Mediterranean diet and when it is born
The Mediterranean diet is a balanced dietary model and it is mainly based on foods such as: cereals, bread, vegetables, olive oil, fish and wine, well represented through the so-called food pyramid, a practical way to visualize the rules of proper nutrition, putting at the base the foods we can consume more and, at the top, the ones we need to limit. At the base of the pyramid we find water (you must drink a lot), with bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and cereals, then we find fruit, vegetables and legumes and, higher up, olive oil, milk and dairy products, then again eggs, meat white and fish, up to the top, where we find the foods we need to limit consumption: red meat, cold cuts and desserts. The Mediterranean diet therefore has three fundamental characteristics: low consumption of saturated fats, it is rich in dietary fiber and carbohydrates, and it has a high intake of monounsaturated fats that derive mainly from the consumption of olive oil. The main characteristics of this diet can be summarized in two words: variety and completeness.
The Mediterranean diet was introduced and studied by the American physiologist and biologist Ancel Keys and it was born precisely in Cilento in the 1940s. The doctor, who was then following the American troops, noticed that the Cilento population, eating bread, pasta, vegetables, legumes, just little meat, fish, fruit and extra virgin olive oil, rarely fell ill with cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases, or however much less than the American population. Then he undertook a 40-year investigation to study local eating habits and draw up a specific diet, scientifically studying the portions of the Mediterranean diet: 60% of sugars of which: 80% complex (wholemeal bread, pasta, rice, corn) and 20% of simple sugars; 15% protein; 30% of good fats (olive oil); many fruits and vegetables because they are useful to provide the right balance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibers.
Benefits of the Mediterranean diet for health
The Mediterranean diet brings many benefits to our health. Following this diet improves memory, helping to prevent diseases such as Alzheimer's one: in fact, extra virgin olive oil helps improve memory in the short term. It also protects our body from oxidative stress and reduces the likelihood of developing chronic kidney disease. The real benefits of the Mediterranean diet would derive from the daily consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes, cereals and white meats, reducing the consumption of red meats, industrial products and desserts to a minimum. Consuming extra virgin olive oil and dried fruit would also help prevent cardiovascular disease while also protecting us from strokes and heart attacks.
What are the main foods of the Mediterranean diet
The main food of the Mediterranean diet is olive oil which helps to control the cardiovascular risk thanks to the polyphenols it contains which perform an antioxidant action. Olive oil works as a powerful anti-inflammatory that prevents cardiovascular diseases and atheroscl eroded. The Mediterranean diet is also characterized by the consumption of foods of vegetable origin: fruit and vegetables have a central role in this diet. In fact, they guarantee the right amount of mineral salts, vitamins, reducing caloric intake. Even dried fruit plays a fundamental role in the Mediterranean diet, especially walnuts and almonds, as they are rich in polyunsaturated fats, that are good fats that protect the arteries. Cereals, especially durum wheat, is a food common to all Mediterranean populations as it is the raw material used to make pasta and bread. Pasta provides an important supply of carbohydrates in the form of starch, whole wheat pasta also provides greater quantities of fiber and mineral salts, which are beneficial for the proper functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. Red wine is also the drink that unites Mediterranean countries: it contains polyphenols that reduce cardiovascular risk. Obviously the consumption also depends on the physical state of each individual person, as it could increase the triglycerides. A healthy person can still consume a glass of red wine a day.
But why is the Mediterranean diet considered the best in the world?
The Mediterranean diet is considered the best in the world because it is a balanced food model that brings benefits not only to health, but also to the environment and society. The Mediterranean diet has a low environmental impact, 60% lower than other North American or Northern European diets, as it is mainly based on vegetables and cereals, rather than on meat and animal fats. Moreover, the Mediterranean diet is based on the consumption of food respecting its seasonality. Among the social benefits, following this dietary regime, together with physical activity, also helps to prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. Furthermore, the Mediterranean diet promotes food awareness, the link with the territory, but also social interaction and conviviality. From an economic point of view, then, following this dietary food model would reduce health expenditure as it would improve the general health status of the population.