Mediterranean Diet or Mediterranean Lifestyle?

To be honest, there is no such thing as Mediterranean diet. There are just cultural and culinary traditions of peoples living around the Mediterranean Sea. Much in these traditions is common to all peoples, but there are even more differences in them. Just compare the typical meals in Greece, Morocco, France and Israel, and you will easily see this.   

How Did the Mediterranean Diet Come About? 

What is the Mediterranean diet and where did it come from?

Mediterranean Diet Ancel Keys

The Mediterranean diet was invented in the USA. In 1958, the American physiologist Ancel Benjamin Keys began his famous Seven Countries Study in search of the connection between nutrition and cardiovascular disease. 

He was not interested in diet but in the link between the rates of heart attacks and nutritional habits of his fellow citizens, rightly assumed that what they used to eat could not lead to anything good.   

Keys has studied the health of middle-aged men in the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Greece, Finland, Japan, the USA and Italy. 

Studies involving 12,763 men aged 40 to 59 years continued from 1958 to 1964.
It turned out that that the inhabitants of the Mediterranean, the number of cardiovascular diseases is significantly lower than in all other regions. 

Mediterranean-Diet -Seven-Countries-Study

Ancel Keys linked this fact to the Mediterranean diet, which was rich in vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, olive oil, fish and seafood. Based on the results of the study, the scientist wrote the book “How to Eat Right and Stay Healthy the Mediterranean Way.”

So Mediterraneans finally learned that what they have been eating for the last few millennia, is called the Mediterranean diet.

Of course, Keys offered a general, simplified and average option: vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, olive oil, fish, seafood, a small amount of wine, and very moderate consumption of animal fats, including meat and dairy products.

The Mediterranean diet has taken its place among many other diets and our arsenal has been replenished with a new useless tool. Another book on the shelf that will help us to lose a couple of kilos (or a couple of dozen) before beach season? No, it will not. All diets don’t work, and neither will this one.

Actually Keys did a great job, once again reminding people the simple truth “you are what you eat”, and he did it very gracefully and romantically. Instead of tedious sermons and boring scientific facts, the Americans got a beautiful fairy tale: “Somewhere far beyond the ocean there is a wonderful Mediterranean. The inhabitants of this country are healthy, slim and beautiful. They are always happy and live up to a hundred years. And the reason for their happiness and longevity is the Mediterranean diet.” 

So Keys gave people another chance to get healthier and it’s not his fault that something went wrong. The finger was pointing at the moon but we were looking at the finger.  

Modern Research on the Mediterranean Diet 

Well, there were some. In the 1990s, 40 years after Keys’s study, Harvard scientists drew the Mediterranean diet pyramid, in which the foundation is not food, but the lifestyle of Mediterranean peoples. 

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

This seemingly simple picture deserves closer attention. Here you can read more about the Mediterranean diet pyramid.  

In 2013, it became known about the results of a five-year study by Spanish scientists led by Ramon Estruch, a senior consultant at the Barcelona Hospital Clinic. It became a real sensation. They followed a group of 7,500 elderly patients with heart and vascular disease. It turned out that those who followed the Mediterranean diet, 30% reduced the risk of stroke and heart attack. Especially effective were diets with a daily addition of four tablespoons of olive oil or a handful of nuts. 

“We saw that the diet has an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effect, and this successfully prevents the development of many diseases,” says Ramon Estruch. “Of course, we assumed that this style of eating prolongs life, but we did not know how strong the effect would be. We decided to report the results before the end of the experiment, because it is inhumane to withhold data from humanity that can save so many lives.”

Scientific studies show that following a Mediterranean diet reduces cancer deaths by 10% and cardiovascular disease by 33%. It also reduces the risk of damage to the vessels of the brain and the likelihood of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. 

Scientists have found enough positive aspects of the Mediterranean diet that may explain why the inhabitants of the Mediterranean, especially the countries of southern Europe, are champions in life expectancy. 

Mediterranean cuisine is a good prevention against heart attacks and strokes, and there is plenty of scientific evidence for this. In addition, a number of studies show that a diet consisting mainly of vegetables, fruits, fish, seafood, legumes, whole grains, olive oil and a small amount of dry wine not only improves blood pressure, but also protects against Alzheimer’s disease. 

Yes, this is also a scientific fact: following the Mediterranean diet increases the likelihood of maintaining mental clarity in old age and avoiding the development of senile dementia and neurodegenerative diseases. 

In 2018, Clare McEvoy of the University of California at San Francisco and her colleagues uncovered another benefit of the Mediterranean diet by observing how it affects brain function in people aged 60 and over. 

As scientists say, a large number of antioxidants and other substances that can potentially improve the functioning of nerve cells made them pay attention to the fact that they and the corresponding food could affect brain function and the likelihood of developing neurodegenerative diseases. 

To test this idea, McEvoy and her colleagues analyzed data collected by the US medical services as part of the HRS project, which involved more than 30,000 older Americans. 

Some of the participants in these observations not only told scientists about their health and took tests of memory and intelligence, but also talked about how they ate and how their diet changed over time. 

This allowed scientists to track how the Mediterranean diet affected the brain and the ability to think. Thus, the likelihood of developing senile dementia in these people was 15-35% lower than in the rest of the HRS participants. 

Mediterranean Diet or Mediterranean Lifestyle? 

Ok, the whole world has already recognized the Mediterranean diet as one of the healthiest eating styles. The question arises – how to observe it away from the Mediterranean, while not spending a fortune on Mediterranean cuisine?

In fact, you can eat Mediterranean and live long anywhere, and it’s not that expensive. Why call it not a diet, but a style of eating or even a way of life? Because there is absolutely nothing in this diet that cannot be repeated in any other region of our planet. 

Mediterranean nutrition is a sufficient amount of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids obtained from fish, olive oil, nuts. Also, it is almost a complete elimination of refined sugars, including white bread and pastries, and a minimum of red meat.

The Mediterranean diet is high in fresh vegetables and fruits (averaging 3-5 servings per day) and daily consumption of whole grains, nuts, seeds and beans.
In the absence of contraindications and desire, moderate consumption of dry red wine is allowed.

If you carefully consider the set of products recommended for the Mediterranean diet, it turns out that it is not difficult to follow it even if you do not live in the Mediterranean. This is exactly what helps to change the name of the Mediterranean Diet to the Mediterranean lifestyle or the Mediterranean style of eating.

This is not such an expensive pleasure as it seems at first glance. Many of the foods in the Mediterranean diet can be replaced with local foods that are more familiar to you. For example, instead of Mediterranean fish, you can eat fish that are more common in your area.

Rice, wheat, beans, nuts, vegetables and fruits are available in almost every country in the world. And no one insists that their list is fully consistent with what is growing in Italy, Greece or Spain.  

No doubt, a diet rich in vegetables, fish and unsaturated fats (olive oil) is good for your health. But the Mediterraneans in Ancel Keys study were the healthiest not just because of their diet, but also because they lived the Mediterranean way. 

First of all, the Mediterranean lifestyle helps reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Based on the available world data, it can be argued that the high level of these diseases has long ceased to be a problem only for Americans, as in the time of Ancel Keys. 

Yes, it’s already a pandemic. Therefore, the principles of the Mediterranean diet, adjusted for local characteristics, can be useful for residents of all countries of the world. 

We shouldn’t care where it came from or what it’s called. If it works, let it be Our Mediterranean Lifestyle. 

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