Mar 30, 2011

What Are The Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean Diet is more than a diet; It is a lifelong living style. You have to adopt it, as a religion. Decades ago, it was the natural way of life of many people around the Mediterranean Basin, especially in Spain, Italy and Greece. High activity, Mediterranean nutrition, anti stress attitudes and not much money shaped a culture that can be declared soon Immaterial Human Heritage by UNESCO. Nowadays, these circumstances have changed in the mentioned countries, but many responsible people are still keeping or returning to what is considered to be the healthiest diet in the world.Traditionally, Western Europe has two broad nutritional approaches - the Northern European and Southern European. The Mediterranean Diet is Southern European, and more specifically focuses on the eating habits of the people of Crete, much of Greece, and southern Italy. Today, Spain, southern France, and Portugal are also included; even though Portugal does not have a Mediterranean coast.

What does the Mediterranean Diet include?

  • Lots of plant foods
  • Fresh fruit as dessert
  • High consumption of beans, nuts, cereals and seeds
  • Olive oil as the main source of dietary fat
  • Cheese and yogurt as the main dairy foods
  • Moderate amounts of fish and poultry
  • No more than about four eggs each week
  • Small amounts of red meat each week (compared to northern Europe)
  • Low to moderate amounts of wine
  • 25% to 35% of calorie intake consists of fat
  • Saturated fat makes up no more than 8% of calorie intake
The Mediterranean diet is known to be low in saturated fat, high in monounsaturated fat, and high in dietary fiber.

Even though Dr. Ancel Keys (USA), who was stationed in southern Italy, publicized the Mediterranean diet, it was not until about the 1990s that the Mediterranean diet was widely recognized and followed elsewhere by nutritionally conscious people.

Compared to other Western diets, the Mediterranean diet was seen by others as a bit of an enigma. Although fat consumption is high, the prevalence of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes has always been significantly lower in Mediterranean countries than northern European countries and the USA.
The American diet is more similar to the northern European diet - with high red meat consumption, greater consumption of butter and animal fats, and a lower intake of fruit and vegetables, compared to the eating habits of Italy, Greece, southern France, and Spain.

The non-English speaking countries of northern Europe, such as Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Austria have adopted the Mediterranean diet to a much greater degree than English speaking nations, such as the UK, Ireland, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Dietary habits in Canada vary; with the French-speaking Quebec areas tending more towards a Mediterranean diet, compared to the rest of the country. Many experts say that is why English-speaking nations have a lower life expectancy than most other developed nations.

Olive oil is known to lower blood cholesterol levels, hypertension, and blood sugar levels; as are fruit and vegetables.

Mediterranean countries consume higher quantities of red wine, while northern European countries and the USA consume more beer. Red wine contains flavonoids, which are powerful antioxidants.

The Mediterranean diet, compared to the Anglo-saxon diet, contains much higher quantities of unprocessed foods.

What are the benefits of the Mediterranean diet?

Studies have been carried out which compare the health risks of developing certain diseases, depending on people's diets. People who adopted the Mediterranean diet have been compared with those who have an American or Northern European diet.

The following health benefits have been observed by people who have a Mediterranean diet:
  • Longer lifespan
  • Lower risk of dying at any age
  • Lower risk of dying from heart disease
  • Lower risk of dying from cancer
  • Lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
  • Lower risk of hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Lower risk of raised cholesterol levels
  • Lower risk of becoming obese
  • Lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease
  • Lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease
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