Mediterranean Diet – History, What it is and How it Works

Isaac K

Mediterranean Diet

There are only a few people who can give you a consistent answer about what a Mediterranean diet is. Some see it as a fad diet, while others consider it a weight loss program. It, however, isn’t prescriptive. In a nutshell, it is a pattern of healthy eating.

Regardless of the name, the diet’s relationship with how folks live in Europe or how they eat is nevertheless less common.

The idea of a Mediterranean diet lives true to what local farmers used to do — eat what they grew. Of course, this lifestyle has since declined. Many people today live on processed foods.

The Mediterranean diet is deeply rooted in the culinary ways of people from the region with the same name, particularly Greece and Italy.

The diet is documented by the United Nations (UN) as endangered. In 2013, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) identified the Mediterranean diet as one of the intangible cultural heritage of the people of Italy, Greece, Portugal, Morocco, Croatia, Spain, and Cyprus.

History of the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is the oldest in the world. It dates back to over four thousand years!

It, however, made it to other countries including the United States only a decade ago. One Ancel Keys, a nutritionist and a professor from the University of Minnesota, did the rediscovery which commenced a series of researches that further popularized the diet.

Mediterranean Diet and Your Health

The Mediterranean diet wasn’t conceived in a lab. According to a professor from the University of Athens, Antonia Trichopoulou, the diet has evolved for over five thousand years.

The diet was born out of the utilization of local resources to prepare meals, and it was largely influenced by factors including religious views, cultural practices, and the environment.

Even before the diet was touted as a healthy lifestyle, lots of people believed it was the best. This tells you that the diet is healthy.

Trichopoulou termed it as a way of living that acknowledges and respects the people, where they live as well as their religions.

It focuses mainly on fresh farm produce, seasoned foods, and cultural options.

Some of the earliest studies of the Mediterranean diet started with Ancel Keys. Unbeknownst to him, more experts would conduct more analysis with an in-depth perspective.

Keys carried out a legendary project dubbed the Seven Countries Study. It sought to determine the health benefits of about 13000 middle-aged men in the US, Greece, Italy, Finland, Japan, and former Yugoslavia.

It was the number of deaths linked to heart disease that attracted Ancel’s attention. He wanted to establish the reasons.

The findings indicated that men from Crete experienced reduced cardiovascular diseases compared to the rest of the countries.

The results were consistent with the subjects’ poor diet after the war, which consisted of fish, grains, fruits, beans, and vegetables.

Hundreds of more studies have since been conducted to establish the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

Some of the studies have explored its impacts on weight loss, the longevity of life, improved cognitive function, eye health, lower risks of certain diseases like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, reduced rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and fertility.

Other studies also link the diet to decreased levels of oxidized low-density lipoprotein LDL cholesterol and blood pressure.

Another study called the Gissi Prevenzione Trial which featured more than 11000 subjects, both male and female showed mortality

Consequently, 50 percent of the subjects in another study, the Gissi Prevenzione Trial performed in Italy featuring over 11,000 male and female individuals, showed reduced mortality after myocardial infarction.

In another study done by Spanish researchers, it was determined that the incorporation of nuts in the diet reduced the risk of heart disease by 30 percent and stroke by 49 percent.

So, does the Mediterranean diet work? Well, history has shown that it isn’t a magic bullet. The diet is not based on one food delivering specific benefits. However, it is largely a form of healthy eating

All it takes in a Mediterranean diet is to incorporate the key components of your diet into your lifestyle and you are halfway there.

This brings us to the next section, defining exactly what a Mediterranean diet is and how it works.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

Some may mistake a Mediterranean diet for loads of pasta, pizza, or lamb satay from the Mediterranean region. Well, these foods hardly make any of the fundamental components of the meal plan.

A Mediterranean diet is typically based on fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy, seafood, olive oil, and a pint of red wine.

This diet was the traditional lifestyle of the people from Greece, Italy (South), and Crete over six decades ago.

This was when they experienced fewer disease outbreaks and their life span was one of the highest despite few advancements in the healthcare industry.

The diet is worth chasing after. It is not even a question of trying – switching from pepperoni pizza to healthy fats is the best thing that could ever happen to you.

Of course, it might take a while for you to transition but once you get the hang of it, you are guaranteed a long and healthy life.

The best part about the Mediterranean diet is that it is more than just eating. It is also about sharing meals and incorporating physical activity.

This makes part of the Mediterranean diet pyramid – an exemplary model ensuring that the food you consume positively influences your mood and brain activity.

This is also apart from helping you foster a worthy appreciation for the gratifications of eating meals that are delicious and nourishing.

A Mediterranean diet is inexpensive, this means that you get to enjoy a healthy meal without breaking your bank. It gives you a balanced nutritional meal, has the right texture, is beautifully flavored, and is full of color.

How does the Mediterranean Diet work?

Details of how the Mediterranean diet works are varied among many people. Even nutritionists and health professionals often differ among themselves.

It holds, however, that the principles are apparent, which is why how the Mediterranean diet works differs from one person to another.

The diet emphasizes consuming fruits and enough vegetables. Legumes, nuts, olive oil, spices, and flavorful herbs, some seafood several times a week are also prioritized.

The same goes for eggs, yogurt, and cheese in moderation while sparing red meat and sweets for only a few occasions.

Whenever you feel like it, you can top it off with a glass of red wine. But what is most important is to stay active. Ensure that you do lots of exercises as well as any other activity that helps you stay physically active.

Bear in mind that the Mediterranean diet is more of a lifestyle than a meal plan. It is not a structured diet. But it is a pattern that allows you to determine the number of calories you consume daily.

What this means is that if you are in for the diet to lose weight, you must carefully balance your calories to either lose or maintain a healthy weight.

The diet is flexible, and you can shape it with healthy meals for the best results.

What is the Cost of the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is not expensive at all, but then again, it depends on where you source your fresh produce from.

To some people, it can get quite expensive, but to some – at least those who can frequent the farmer’s market – they can acquire most of the food components affordably.

Some of the priciest components, nonetheless, include olive oil and seafood. If you could find a cheap source for these as well, the better.

The good thing is, that the diet limits the intake of processed foods. This means that you won’t have to visit your favorite junk food joint now and then.

Of course, the diet doesn’t entirely instruct you to avoid these foods – if you must have them, do it in moderation.

We can, therefore, say that following the Mediterranean diet is easy unless one overeats because of a lack of structure.

That said, ensure that while you shop for supplies for the Mediterranean diet, you do it wisely. If you are shopping for red wine, the vintage 50-dollar bottle makes no difference with a cheap table wine that goes for 15 dollars or less.

And while at it, you can snag those vegetables available that day rather than the expensive limited options, and if you are substituting red meats with plant-based products, keep the tab reasonable.

Mediterranean Diet for Weight Loss

The point of any meal plan, at least to many people, is to lose weight. That is why you will find that the question “does the Mediterranean diet for weight loss work?” is quite popular.

Their doubts aren’t unfounded. Some believe that because the diet is relatively high in fats like avocado, olives, and olive oil, it may keep them fat. Research, however, suggests otherwise.

The Mediterranean diet, in a nutshell, is not a weight loss plan, but the logic is, that if one limits the consumption of processed foods and unhealthy fats, they may realize weight loss.

 But then again, it is highly dependent on the procedures or methods you adopt and how it relates to your current diet plan.

If, for example, you follow the rule of calorie-deficit plans – that is, eating fewer calories than the daily recommendation – you will be able to shed off a few pounds. Similarly, you can burn the extra through exercise.

There is also evidence that the Mediterranean can be used to address weight loss. One of the studies was published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal in 2016.

The study analyzed the PREDIMED study and it was discovered that subjects on the Mediterranean meal plan added a negligible size to their waistlines. Those who supplemented the Mediterranean diet with olive oil lost the most weight.

Quick Facts on the Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is accompanied by a lot of misconceptions. Some people consider it an expensive diet and they may not be able to pull it off successfully in the long run. These individuals believe that the diet is only for the rich.

Another myth is that the diet can be combined with as many glasses of wine as possible, or that it is not complete without a bowl of pasta.

Well, it is not just about the food. Here are some quick facts about the Mediterranean diet:

  • There is no universal Mediterranean diet, it varies from one region to another but it is based in countries such as  Spain, Greece, and Italy.
  • Olive oil replaces most of the saturated fats that make up most of the Western diet.
  • More emphasis is put on fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and natural sources.
  • There is evidence that the Mediterranean diet has benefits such as the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, and improved brain function among others (benefits found in this article).
  • The diet isn’t structured; thus, one needs to do it in moderation. It is also high in fat content.
  • The Mediterranean diet works best when paired with physical activities.
  • The diet mainly consists of plant-based foods including vegetables, whole grains, legumes, fruits, and nuts.

The Bottom Line:

The Mediterranean diet is a healthy meal plan backed up by science. It carries lots of benefits including weight loss if done right. Scientific organizations encourage the adoption of the diet since it is a fundamental plan in the fight against chronic diseases and the prevention of some of them.

Our next article explores all the benefits of the Mediterranean diet and what studies say about them. Meanwhile, have you ever tried the diet before? How well did it work? Let us know in the comments section below.

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