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Mediterranean Diet Health Benefits

Peperonata, delicious pepper and tomato dish
Peperonata, delicious pepper and tomato dish

Mediterranean Diet vs Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Despite the recent fad and growing popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, promoted by various kinds of celebrities, the World Health Organisation (WHO), medical authorities and government health bodies still recommend the “food pyramid” nutrition that largely overlaps with the Mediterranean Diet.

You can see below here on this page images of the Med Diet pyramid and the US Department of Agriculture’s recommended food pyramid.

For diabetics and people trying to lose weight as well, the medical nutritional guidelines for a healthy diet are the same as for the rest of the population. Britain’s main diabetes charity, Diabetes UK, has issued a statement which is critical of low-carbohydrates diets.

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

Similarly, the British Nutrition Foundation has written that it’s good to “emphasise the need to include a starchy food, such as potatoes, rice, pasta or bread, with each meal and encourage a diet that is based on high fibre foods such as whole grain foods, pulses (such as kidney beans, lentils, haricot beans), potatoes with skins, vegetables and fruits“.

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), a committee of independent experts that advises the UK Government on nutrition questions, has published a report, Carbohydrates and Health, which “advises more fibre in diet by having more fruit and vegetables and wholegrain foods.
Starchy carbohydrates should still form basis of your diet“.

People too preoccupied with carbs tend to underestimate the importance of having a lean, low-fat nutrition. A recent study published on Nature concluded that “dietary fat promotes pathological insulin resistance through chronic inflammation”.

US Department of Agriculture Food Pyramid
US Department of Agriculture Food Pyramid

The Mediterranean Diet emphasises consumption of grains, fruits, vegetables, seeds, olive oil (unsaturated fat), a rare use of red meat and animal fats (saturated fats), and moderate consumption of dairy products, red wine, sweets.

In the Mediterranean Diet fats, especially animal fats, which are generally bad for you especially in high quantities, are kept low. Olive oil and vinegar – which is a low-calorie food, whose acetic acid has been shown to increase the feeling of being satisfied and to prevent both weight gain and the accumulation of body fat – are used as dressing for raw and cooked vegetables and salads, rather than high-fat sauces like mayonnaise and similar.
Milk is not consumed in great quantities, and butter is used very little, preferring olive oil for cooking and spreading. Lemon juice is also abundantly used in place of a sauce, especially on fried foods: a healthier choice than ketchup or brown sauce.

Pasta salad with olives
Pasta salad with olives

How Was It All Discovered?

Some doctors and medical dieticians had already understood the need to limit animal foods such as dairy products, meat and eggs, but the concept of the Mediterranean Diet itself was introduced, studied and tested in his Centro Benessere by Lorenzo Piroddi (1911 – 1999), a doctor who scientific papers and two books on the subject.

A large study of populations was a major breakthrough in understanding how dietary habits of different groups of people are related to their degree of health. That’s how the Mediterranean diet was “discovered”.

The Mediterranean diet is based on fresh produce, complex carbohydrates, dietary fibre, and monounsaturated fatty acids.

Awareness of the Mediterranean diet began in the 1950s, when Professor Ancel Keys embarked on a comparative survey of the diet of seven countries: Finland, Japan, Greece, Italy, Holland, USA and former Yugoslavia.

The resulting data, together with those of other researchers, clearly demonstrated that among the populations living in the Mediterranean, whose diet consists mainly of bread, pasta, fruits, vegetables, fish and food seasoned almost exclusively with olive oil, the death rate from ischemic cardiovascular diseases is much lower than in most North European countries such as Holland and Finland, where the staple diet consists mainly of foods of animal origin and saturated fat as found in milk and red meat.

Even within Italy, for example, the lowest incidence of heart disease is in regions with a higher consumption of olive oil and a preference for fish rather than meat, like Liguria, the region that gave us the pesto, the tasty sauce based on basil, pine kernels, garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

Recent studies have confirmed the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and have shown that it is useful not just in disease prevention but also in reversing the effects of some conditions.

Many studies compare the Mediterranean diet with other kinds of diet, including traditional low-fat and low-carbohydrate diets, in their effects on weight loss and other measures of health.

A research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, when patients at risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes followed a Mediterranean-style diet for two years, they lost more weight and reduced their blood pressure, insulin, glucose and “bad” cholesterol levels, while increasing “good” cholesterol, more than a group with similar characteristics and degree of exercise activity who was put on a low-fat diet.

The author of the study, Dr. Katherine Esposito of the Second University of Naples in Italy, said that “the study was the first demonstration that a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, walnuts and olive oil might be effective in warding off diseases of the heart and vascular system. In the United States, where almost a quarter of the population is considered at risk for developing heart disease or diabetes, widespread adoption of a Mediterranean diet could improve health significantly, she and her coauthors surmised”.

References:

Diabetes UK official position on low-carbohydrates diet for diabetics

UK Government Eatwell Guide

British Nutrition Foundation on carbohydrates

Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition press release on its Carbohydrates and Health report

Nature article “Fatty acid synthesis configures the plasma membrane for inflammation in diabetes”

Italian extra virgin olive oil
Italian extra virgin olive oil

Where to buy Mediterranean Foods and Ingredients on the Internet

IN THE UK

  • In the UK you can find Monini, one of the few and rare-to-find real extra virgin olive oil brands, on Amazon UK:


  • Click on this Amazon UK link for Monini oil’s various bottles and packs sizes:Monini Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • If you don’t have much time to cook, a healthier alternative to take-aways – over whose use of ingredients you have no control, and which tend to overuse salt, saturated fats and other unhealthy in high doses but convenient ingredients – is Gousto
    Gousto is a service delivering at your home nice, fresh ingredients that you select from a menu of recipes. They will give you the cooking instructions too, so you can have a varied, restaurant-style multitude of dishes that you can prepare at home following the recipes.It’s like eating at a restaurant for high-quality, deliciousness and variety, but with a control over the ingredients that you don’t have when you eat outside. And good ingredients are particularly important when it comes to health.Gousto has been voted by The Guardian newspaper the No 1 Ingredients Delivery Service.Some of Gousto’s dinners, epecially the Quick and Easy Recipes , take less than 15 minutes or 20 minutes to prepare at home, less time than it takes for a takeaway to arrive. They have Tuscan, Persian, Thai, Indian, Mexican, Texan, vegetarian, Chinese, Vietnamese.There are also family-friendly meals.If you love food, follow the Gousto blog too.

 

Basil, tomato and mozzarella salad with olive oil dressing
Basil, tomato and mozzarella salad with olive oil dressing

IN THE USA

  • In the USA you can find Monini, one of the few and not too easy to find real extra virgin olive oils, on Amazon in various bottle and pack sizes: Monini Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • You can also buy Mediterranean foods from Amazon at this link:Mediterranean Foods
  • You can buy online Bertolli and Filippo Berio olive oils from Peapod, America’s largest online internet grocery shopping and delivery service. Peapod also has many other brands of olive oils, extra virgin and non, including organic, both original and imported. You can use it at anytime, day or night, for quality groceries, and it will make you save time, money, and the hassles of waiting in line. Peapod services Chicagoland, Milwaukee, S.E. Wisconsin, Indianapolis, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Southern New Hampshire, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, S.E. Pennsylvania: Peapod Online Grocery Shopping
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil at VitaminShoppe

Click on the following links to find a comprehensive list of books, DVDs, videos, CDs and other things on Italy, including auction items and web resources:

Italy from amazon.com

Italy from amazon.co.uk