The Mediterranean Diet reflects a way of eating that is traditional in Crete and it is supposed to be the healthiest in the world.
The healthfulness of this pattern is prooved by more than 50 years of epidemiological and experimental nutrition research.
Dietary data from Crete that in the recent past enjoyed the lowest recorded rates of chronic diseases and the highest adult life expectancy are characterized by the pattern illustrated in the list below. The frequency and amounts suggested are in most cases intentionally nonspecific, since variation was considerable. The historical pattern includes the following (several parenthetical notes add a contemporary public health perspective):
- An abundance of food from plant sources, including fruits and vegetables, potatoes, breads and grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
- Emphasis on a variety of minimally processed and, wherever possible, seasonally fresh and locally grown foods (which often maximizes the health-promoting micronutrient and antioxidant content of these foods).
- Olive oil as the principal fat, replacing other fats and oils (including butter and margarine).
- Total fat ranging from less than 25 percent to over 35 percent of energy, with saturated fat no more than 7 to 8 percent of energy (calories).
- Daily consumption of low to moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt (low-fat and non-fat versions may be preferable).
- Twice-weekly consumption of low to moderate amounts of fish and poultry (recent research suggests that fish be somewhat favored over poultry); up to 7 eggs per week (including those used in cooking and baking).
- Fresh fruit as the typical daily dessert; sweets with a significant amount of sugar (often as honey) and saturated fat consumed not more than a few times per week.
- Red meat a few times per month (recent research suggests that if red meat is eaten, its consumption should be limited to a maximum of 12 to 16 ounces [340 to 450 grams] per month; where the flavor is acceptable, lean versions may be preferable).
- Regular physical activity at a level which promotes a healthy weight, fitness and well-being.
- Moderate consumption of wine, normally with meals; about one to two glasses per day for men and one glass per day for women. From a contemporary public health perspective, wine should be considered optional and avoided when consumption would put the individual or others at risk.
Health benefits of the Mediterranean diet
A traditional Mediterranean diet consisting of large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil—coupled with physical activity—reduces the risk of heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. More specifically:
Protecting against type 2 diabetes. A Mediterranean diet is rich in fiber, slowing down digestion and preventing huge swings in blood sugar.
Preventing heart disease and strokes. Refined breads, processed foods, and red meat are discouraged in a Mediterranean diet, and it encourages drinking red wine instead of hard liquor, which have all been linked to heart disease and stroke.
Keeping you agile. The nutrients gained with a Mediterranean diet may reduce a senior’s risk of developing muscle weakness and other signs of frailty by about 70 percent.
Reducing risk of Alzheimer’s. Researchers speculate that the Mediterranean diet may improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels and overall blood vessel health—all factors that may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Halving the risk of Parkinson’s disease. In a diet containing high levels of antioxidants that prevent cells from undergoing a damaging process called oxidative stress, the risk of Parkinson’s disease is practically cut in half.
Increased longevity. When there is a reduction in developing heart disease or cancer, as in the case when you follow a Mediterranean diet, there is a 20% reduced risk of death at any age.