4. 9 Mediterranean diet
After it was noticed that the inhabitants of those countries that bordered the Mediterranean sea presented a lower incidence of cardiovascular and chronic illnesses, and they enjoyed a longer life expectancy than the rest of the world, the feeding patterns of these populations were studied. This phenomenon was independent from their level of education, social status or acquisition power. As a result, it was concluded it came from the feeding habits.
In the 50's, some scientists began to study their feeding habits and established that these diets were:
regular consumption of cereals, legumes, fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, olive oil and dried fruit;
moderate consumption of dairy products (specially yogurt and cheese), eggs and poultry and;
low consumption of pork, lamb and beef. They included wine to their diet moderately and they seasoned their meals with spices such as garlic, onion, oregano, basil and pepper.
Other studies attributed the beneficial effects of this type of diet to the fat proportion and the different fat acids. These studies showed how in countries in northern Europe, whose consumption of saturated fats is predominant, there was a higher mortality rate for coronary diseases. These studies also stated the relationship between the higher levels of cholesterol and the higher incidence of heart attacks. Curiously, in countries like Spain and France, the consumption of fats is quite high, surpassing the suggested quantities (25-35% of the total consumed energy). However, such fats are mostly non-saturated, due to an important consumption of olive oil.
Nowadays, several investigations have been carried out and published in science magazines. These results have been presented in symposiums and conferences, and the interest in the benefits of mediterranean diets grow in popularity.
The most important characteristics of a Mediterranean diet are:
Olive oil, widely used in mediterranean cuisine. It's rich in non-saturated fat acids. Many investigations have proven that these fat acids regulate the proportion of HDL ("good cholesterol") and LDL ("bad cholesterol"), becoming a shield against the forming of atheroma plaques in arteries.
Seed or olive oil is used in mediterranean food for cooking instead of butter or any other type of animal fat used in other countries in the north of Europe. Moreover, bread is eaten plain or with olive oil, not with butter spread, peanut butter, or others.
Fish, also characteristic of the Mediterranean diet and whose fat is beneficial for our health. Studies carried out in eskimo populations in Greenland, whose diet is practically based on fish and don't consume vegetable fats, showed how the low rate of heart attacks found in this region was a result of the poly-saturated fat acids in fish, more specifically, omega-3. These components increase HDL and lower LDL.
Legumes, cereals (rice, pasta, most of them whole-grain), fruit and vegetables provide the Mediterranean diet with vitamins, minerals, antioxidant substances, fiber and complex carbohydrates besides variety.
The Mediterranean diet can be considered one of the best options known. These diets provide a high level of minerals and vitamins, and because of their balance in fat acids, it makes them an impressive shield to prevent cardiovascular diseases.