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Monday 21st August 2017

Mediterranean Diet Health Benefits

Peperonata, delicious pepper and tomato dish

Peperonata

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Health benefits of Mediterranean Diet

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 here on this page 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.

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".

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.

Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

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.

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 fiber, 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.

USDA Food Pyramid

US Department of Agriculture Food Pyramid

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"

 

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