The Mediterranean region is made up of the Mediterranean Sea and those countries that border it including Greece, Italy, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Morocco. Although the Mediterranean is a choice vacation destination, this area of the world has also gained attention for the greater longevity and quality of life experienced by those who live there. Over a period of more than 50 years scientists and health and nutrition researchers have studied the diet and lifestyle of people living in the Mediterranean region. Over that period of time they have identified a much lower incidence of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic disease such as asthma and diabetes in the Mediterranean region. Lower rates of mental issues such as depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have also been reported.
With the rates of obesity and chronic illness growing rapidly worldwide, the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle has increasingly gained attention from health officials and researchers. In 1993, Oldways, The World Health Organization and the Harvard School of Public Health formally introduced the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle along with the Mediterranean Food Pyramid to the world. The Mediterranean diet consists of food that is locally grown and minimally processed including plant source foods such as fruits and vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts as well as moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt daily. The Mediterranean diet also contains fish and poultry twice weekly and as many as 7 eggs each week. Lean red meat is only consumed a few times each month.
The primary source of fat in the Mediterranean diet is olive oil. Olive oil is an excellent source of mono unsaturated fatty acid which has been linked to lower LDL-cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and higher HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol) as well as improved glucose metabolism in individuals with, and without, type II diabetes. The consumption of olive oil has also been shown to reduce elderly cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Wine is also a primary factor in the Mediterranean diet. Individuals who adhere to the Mediterranean diet consume 1-2 glasses of wine daily, usually with meals. Polyphenols present in the wine consumed by those who adhere to the Mediterranean diet, have been found to reduce cholesterol as well as to lower the risk of heart disease. Other aspects of the Mediterranean diet which lead to long life and good health is physical activity, the social dynamic of shared meals and an overarching appreciation for food and the traditions of mealtimes.
Lopez-Miranda, J., et al (2008) Olive oil and health: Summary of the II international conference on olive oil and health consensus report, Jaen and Cordoba (Spain). doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2009.12.007
Walzem, R. (2008). Wine and health: state of proofs and research needs. Inflammopharmacology, 16(6), 265-271. doi:10.1007/s10787-008-8027-6.