The mediterranean diet

What is it??


The term “Mediterranean Diet” refers to the food habits of several Mediterranean regions associated with the cultivation of the olive. Even though the Mediterranean diet patterns vary by geographic region, they all share several common features:

  • • A high consumption of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals (bread, pasta) and nuts, which are eaten fresh or minimally processed so they retain their nutritional characteristics.
  • • The consumption of olive oil as the main source of fat in the diet.
  • • Moderate ingestion of fish and fowl and low ingestion of red meat.
  • • Moderate consumption of dairy products (yoghurt and cheese) and eggs (between 0 and 4 per week).
  • • Moderate consumption of wine, especially at meals.
In addition to a nutritional pattern that features foods combined in a varied, balanced way, the Mediterranean Diet is also a lifestyle that includes moderate physical exercise. Overall, it is a healthy living pattern.

What does it do?

The first study that noted the beneficial effects of the Mediterranean Diet was the “Seven Countries Study” conducted in the 1950s. This study analysed the cardiovascular risk factor among 13,000 men aged 40-59 who lived in seven countries: Finland, United States, Japan, Holland and three Mediterranean countries: Greece, Italy and Yugoslavia. The countries with the Mediterranean Diet showed much lower mortality rates due to cardiovascular disease (myocardial infarction, stroke, etc.) than the other countries which did not follow the Mediterranean dietary pattern, which revealed the Mediterranean Diet’s protective effect against this illness.

  Subsequent studies have examined the effects of the different components of the Mediterranean Diet on other populations, and they have generally found a drop in the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease and death. One of the most important studies researched the effect of the Mediterranean Diet on patients who had already suffered from myocardial infarction. The patients followed a Mediterranean Diet for 27 months, and the results showed that death from cardiovascular disease was 70% lower in the group that followed the Mediterranean Diet compared to the group that did not. Subsequently, many other studies have demonstrated how the Mediterranean Diet can lower the risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease precisely because of its beneficial effects on most of the risk factors that trigger this disease, such as LDL cholesterol.

How does it protect us?

In order to ascertain which components of the diet may be responsible for this protective effect, the studies examined the ingestion of nutrients and reached the conclusion that replacing saturated fats in a diet with the monounsaturated fat found in olive oil (mainly oleic acid) is beneficial in preventing cardiovascular disease.It is a proven fact that saturated fat in the diet raises cholesterol levels, while replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat or monounsaturated fat (the oleic acid found in olive oil) helps maintain normal levels of blood cholesterol. Likewise, a high consumption of antioxidant compounds is another argument used to explain the beneficial effects of the Mediterranean Diet with regard to cardiovascular disease. The high exposure to solar radiation and warm temperatures in the regions around the Mediterranean basin lead the plants to develop defence mechanisms by accumulating antioxidant substances such as polyphenols. The Mediterranean Diet is rich in fruit, vegetable and olive oil and therefore leads to a high ingestion of antioxidants, whose biological properties would be transferred to the organism consuming them. Extra virgin olive oil contains polyphenols. Consuming the polyphenols in olive oil contributes to protecting blood lipids from oxidative stress.. This factor that predisposes one to cardiovascular disease.
The cardiovascular benefits noted in populations with a Mediterranean dietary pattern have also influenced the nutritional recommendations aimed at staving off cardiovascular disease in international societies and organisations. For example, in its latest report the World Health Organisation recommends replacing the consumption of saturated fat with monounsaturated fat (thus encouraging the consumption of olive oil) and boosting the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables. Inspired by this latter recommendation, the “5 per day” campaign was launched.