The term “Mediterranean diet” refers to the dietary pattern -with olive oil as the main ingredient- that was followed by people living in the Mediterranean region, specifically the inhabitants of Crete and Southern Italy. Many scientists have been working on this dietary model for decades, looking for its potential benefits to human health. The extensive scientific analysis and the connection of the Mediterranean diet to health took place in 1993, when the first scientific conference on the Mediterranean diet was held. The purpose of this conference was to design a food pyramid, which would reflect the eating habits of Mediterranean people, aiming to use it as a guideline for a healthy diet. The Mediterranean diet pyramid is beneficial since it determines the guidelines of a diet based on seasonality, availability, variety, as well as moderation in food consumption.
The basics of the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet focuses mainly on plant-based foods with olive oil as the primary source of fat. Fresh fruits are mainly consumed as dessert, while dairy products, fish, chicken and eggs play a significant role. In addition, daily use of herbs and spices is recommended, and main meals are accompanied by moderate amounts of red wine. The consumption of red meat is limited to the minimum, while saturated fats are not included in this type of diet. More precisely, the recommendations of the Mediterranean pyramid for daily, weekly and monthly food consumption are as follows:
Daily consumption: It is recommended to consume daily cereals (8 micro portions), vegetables (6 micro portions), fruits (3 micro portions), olive oil and low-fat dairy products (2 micro portions). At the same time, moderate alcohol consumption is allowed (1-2 glasses of wine per day).
Weekly consumption: On a weekly basis, it is recommended to consume potatoes (3 micro portions), fish (5-6 micro portions), poultry (4 micro portions), olives, legumes, nuts (3-4 micro portions), eggs (3 micro portions) and honey-based desserts (3 micro portions).
Monthly consumption: Red meat consumption is recommended to be limited to 1 time per month (4 small portions).
Undoubtedly, the exact quantities are always individualized according to one’s special needs and goals, while systematic physical exercise is necessary for healthy living.
On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet model rejects and excludes unhealthy or processed ingredients and foods, such as sugar (e.g., sodas, candies, ice creams, table sugar, sweets, cookies, etc.), refined grains (e.g., white bread and pasta), processed fats (e.g., margarine and other processed foods, such as puff pastry), refined oils (e.g., soybean oil) and processed meat (e.g. sausages, cured meats, hot dog).
The Mediterranean diet as a protective shield
Numerous studies demonstrate the benefits of the Mediterranean diet in human health, prevention of diseases and proper care of specific pathological conditions. Through analyzing the Mediterranean lifestyle and the cooperative action of its food components, research has concluded that adopting this dietary model has the following beneficial effects: Minimizes the risk of cardiovascular diseases and ensuing mortality
Prevents the onset of type II diabetes
Reduces the risk of a stroke
Protects against certain neurodegenerative diseases
Contributes to the maintenance of a healthy body weight in both adults and children
Protects against obesity and related eating disorders
Ensures the good health of the gastrointestinal system and microbiome
The Mediterranean diet positively affects the human health due to its high composition of vegetable fibers (soluble and insoluble), low intake of refined products, high consumption of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids (from fish, olive oil and nuts) instead of saturated, and -for sure- due to the antioxidant substances (polyphenols, flavonoids) and multitude of vitamins and trace elements contained in fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs.