The Mediterranean Diet originated in the 1970s; an American physiologist Ancel Keys, studying diet and heart disease, found that Crete, Greece, residents were exceptionally healthy. The average life expectancy of the islanders was higher than that of neighbouring areas, but also cardiovascular disease is sporadic. After an in-depth investigation, it was found that the regions eating this dietary pattern included 16 countries around the Mediterranean, including Greece, Palestine, Lebanon, Spain, Portugal and southern Italy, so it was named the Mediterranean diet.
Although these countries have different traditional dietary patterns due to their geographical relations, they share many common characteristics: the primary edible oil is olive oil, and they eat more foods rich in dietary fibre, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, seeds, a moderate amount of cheese and yoghurt, moderate amount of fish per week, more choice of fish and seafood rich in omega-3 fatty acids, poultry and eggs once a week to once a day, and only eat red meat a few times a month Meat (pork, beef), processed meat is rarely eaten, fresh fruit is used to replace dessert after a meal, delicate sweets are occasionally eaten, and red wine is often consumed, almost every meal.
The Mediterranean diet does not emphasize low fat but emphasizes eating more oil. Their diet is mainly in raw vegetables, and salad dressing is prepared with olive oil, drizzled on cooked food or dipped in bread; olive oil is eaten raw. Much, non-high heat cooking. According to this diet concept, they calculated the nutritional composition; fat accounts for about 32-35% of the total calories, different from the traditional low-fat diet, which accounts for 25-30% of the total calories. However, the saturated fat in the fat intake does not exceed 9-10% of total calories, rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and Omega-3 fatty acids, and fibre at least 27-37 grams per day.
What are the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet?
The first study of the health effects of the Mediterranean diet was preventing cardiovascular disease. A 2010 journal paper, which comprehensively analyzed 18 clinical trials with more than 2 million participants, used an assessment form to assess whether the subjects’ dietary habits conformed to the principles of the Mediterranean diet, topics including 1. High intake of pods 2. More whole grains 3. More fruits/nuts 4. More vegetables 5. More intake of fish 6. High ratio of monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids 7. Moderate alcohol consumption (red wine) 8. Less red meat and meat products
Dairy products, 1 point for each item, 0 points otherwise; the minimum total score is 0 points, and the maximum is 9 points. It was found that a 2-point increase in the total score was associated with an 8% reduction in overall mortality, a 10% reduction in cardiovascular morbidity or mortality, and a 6% reduction in cancer morbidity or mortality for Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. A 13% reduction in the incidence of Haimer’s disease shows the multifaceted health benefits of a Mediterranean-type diet.
Recent research on the Mediterranean diet and disease
Scholars in Spain have studied patients with metabolic syndrome. If they adopt a Mediterranean diet and eat nuts, some people can return to health. Their research method was to divide more than 1,000 subjects with an average age of 67 into three groups.
One group was a control group, and they were advised to adopt a traditional low-fat diet and taught how to reduce their fat intake. The second group was to follow a Mediterranean diet and 1 litre of virgin olive oil per week. The third group was on a Mediterranean diet, plus 30 grams of nuts per day (15 grams of pecans, 7.5 grams of hazelnuts and 7.5 grams of almonds), and their daily calorie intake was not restricted during the experiment.
The incidence of metabolic syndrome in all three groups before the start of the experiment was about 61%. After one year of follow-up, it was found that the incidence of new metabolic syndrome was reduced by 2% in the control group, 6.7% in the Mediterranean diet plus virgin olive oil, and in the Mediterranean diet plus nuts. A decrease of 13.7%. When adjusted for gender, age, obesity status, and weight change, eating a Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil did not improve metabolic syndrome compared with a control group, but a Mediterranean diet with nuts did. It is up to 1.7 times that of the control group.
That is to say, the Mediterranean diet with nuts can effectively improve metabolic syndrome. Another result of this experiment shows that although the total calorie intake is not controlled, as long as one eats a good oil and a good diet, there will be a significant improvement in the occurrence of chronic disease metabolic syndrome. When the three groups were followed five years later, the Mediterranean diet plus virgin olive oil was associated with minor myocardial infarction, stroke, or cardiovascular death, with a relative risk reduction of about 30 per cent.
Another new clinical study shows that a “Mediterranean diet” supplemented with nuts or olive oil every day can counteract the ageing of brain function, which means it can strengthen the brain. Four hundred forty-seven subjects aged 55 to 80 with good cognitive function were divided into three groups for the study. Two of which were on a Mediterranean diet with an additional 30 grams per day of nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds) or five tablespoons of virgin olive oil, and a third group, a control group, were advised to follow a low-fat diet. The study followed subjects for up to four years.
The results showed that the subjects on the Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts had the most potent memory function than the control group. The group that ate the Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil had better prefrontal function (representing attention and executive abilities and overall cognition). The study pointed out that these two groups’ cognitive function decline rate was slower than that of the control group. The reason could be that nuts and olive oil contain many polyphenolic compounds, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory functions. That would delay the peroxidation and neurodegeneration of the brain disease process.
Inflammation is thought to be involved in the causes of mental disorders such as depression and dementia. Many clinical studies have also found that following the principles of the Mediterranean diet can significantly reduce the risk of depression and dementia. A large-scale follow-up study, also in Spain, found that people who followed the principles of the Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of depression. Other related studies have also shown that high consumption of fish rich in omega-3 can reduce the risk of mental illness. The consumption of olive oil is inversely related to the risk index of depression in the elderly. It is speculated that the nutritional composition of the Mediterranean diet not only reduces the inflammatory response but also has a direct impact on the brain. For example, omega-3 can improve the function of nerve cell membranes and serum hormones. In addition, the monounsaturated fatty acids rich in olive oil also improve serum hormones.
Women who adopt a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy can protect their children from asthma and allergies in early childhood.
More than 500 pregnant women were selected in the Greek study and asked in detail about their eating habits. The experiment was followed for a total of six years, observing whether children born to pregnant women had asthma and conducting detailed skin prick allergy tests to see their reactions to allergies. The results found little correlation between the children’s food and whether they had asthma or allergies; the main difference was the pattern of their mothers’ diets during pregnancy.
The study found that children born to pregnant women whose dietary patterns deviate from the Mediterranean diet were 3 to 4 times more likely to develop asthma than children born to pregnant women who ate the Mediterranean diet and were twice as likely to have allergies.
The Mediterranean diet includes antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, which can help children fight allergies. Omega-3 fatty acids can improve inflammation in the body and reduce the occurrence of asthma.
How to practice a Mediterranean diet?
1. The Mediterranean diet recommends using fresh, seasonal ingredients such as traditional Greek ingredients such as spinach, gherkins, tomatoes, black olives and feta cheese.
2. Weight loss does not require strict calorie counting. The diet is devoid of saturated fats and replaced with heart-friendly fats, and the principles of the Mediterranean diet are adopted, such as olive oil instead of butter, fish or poultry for red meat. Use seasonal fresh fruit, avoid sweet and delicate desserts, eat delicious vegetables and beans, and eat a small number of nuts each day.
3. Bread and pasta are made from whole wheat, high in minerals and healthier than foods made from white flour. Dip whole wheat bread with olive oil, hummus, or tahini.
4. There is no limit to the total amount of “fat”, which refers to fats that are good for the heart, such as nuts, olives and olive oil. These fats are not the unsaturated or trans fats found in processed foods, and in addition to adding flavour, they can prevent diabetes and cancer.
5. Nearly every ingredient of the Mediterranean diet is good for the heart. Olive oil and nuts help lower “bad” cholesterol. Fruits, vegetables, and beans keep blood vessels open. Fish rich in omega-3 can lower triglycerides and blood pressure.
6. A glass of 150cc red wine a day is also good for the heart.
Numerous studies have confirmed the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and the prevention of cardiovascular disease, the prevention and improvement of metabolic syndrome, depression and dementia, the reduction of cancer, the incidence of childhood allergies and asthma, and the ability to delay ageing function of macular degeneration. While enjoying Mediterranean cuisine, it is also helpful for health and is worth trying.