Centuries-old Diet Makes the Trip to the United States!

The history of the Mediterranean diet only dates back to the 1940's when Dr. Ancel Keys noticed that the Cretan men (Island of Crete) were very healthy and lived to a very old age.

12,000 Men Had Their Diets Investigated!

Dr. Keys, an American nutritionist, was stationed in Salerno, Italy. In 1945, while traveling to the mountainous areas of Crete, he observed that men of the region had low rates of cancer and heart disease.

He eventually instituted a 12 year study investigating the diets of 12,000 men in seven countries around the world. The published report, in 1980, concluded that arterial blockages were due to the consumption of saturated fats. The result was often a heart attack.

With the results of that study, the world was introduced to the Mediterranean diet. It had medical advantages and it was a sensible way to eat. I suspect Dr. Keys chose the diet as he lived to age 100.

Americans Are Introduced to the Mediterranean Diet!

Gradually, Americans were becoming aware of the diet that had a low incidence of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Could they extend their lives and live healthier as did the populations in Greece and Southern Italy?

In the 1990's, Americans sought to achieve ultimate health via the Mediterranean diet. Harvard School of Public Health (1993) introduced the diet as a way to eat healthy. It advocates moderation, avoids saturated fat and trans fat. People on the diet often look and feel better. The results can be amazing.

The New England Journal of Medicine (2003), in a study of over 22,000 participants, revealed fewer deaths for those on the Mediterranean diet.

It was believed that the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables and the limited amount of saturated fat reduced coronary heart disease.

That same study concluded that the presence of antioxidants decreased the presence of cancer-causing free radicals. Those participants, that followed the diet, had fewer cancers and a 33 percent decrease in cardiovascular disease. It was a significant study because of its size and dramatic conclusions.

Health Benefits!

  • Live longer
  • Easier to regulate weight
  • Less cardiovascular disease
  • Decreased aging (antioxidants)
  • Decreased inflammation (Ex. arthritis)
  • Decreased risk of developing diabetes
  • More fiber improves colon health
  • Decreased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease
  • Decreased risk of developing Parkinson's disease

What Is the Mediterranean Diet?

The people of Crete and Southern Italy were getting much of their food from the sea and using olive oil to dress their vegetables. Fruits and red wine were also a prevalent part of their diet.

Although not part of the diet, the people of the region were physically active. Work was strenuous and walking was most often the means of transportation. It is believed that many of the health benefits can be attributed to an active lifestyle.

Diet ingredients:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • Canola and olive oil (replaces butter)
  • Whole grains (fiber)
  • Herbs and spices (replaces salt to flavor food)
  • Fish and poultry (about twice each week)
  • Nuts and legumes
  • Red meat (infrequently)
  • Bread (dipped in olive oil) (no butter)
  • Red wine (in moderation)(with flavonoids and powerful antioxidant properties)

Miscellaneous Observations!

The areas of origin, of the Mediterranean diet are not immune to the influences of the Western World. Obesity rates in Greece are soaring.

Ironically, residents of the Mediterranean have low rates of skin cancer though they tend to have much more exposure to solar UV radiation. Northern Europe has a higher incidence of melanomas than in Mediterranean countries.

Solar UVB-induced synthesis of Vitamin D in the oils of the skin has been proposed as a reason for the reduced incidence of coronary heart disease.

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