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Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

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Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

        Dieting and body image has been a topic of interest for thousands of years. The role of diet in health has been evident since ancient Greece. It was discussed in the ancient Greek dietetica, and afterwards was clearly a part of the belief systems of Greek philosophers, historians, and physicians, such as Hippocrates and Socrates. Fad dieting, however, did not start until roughly around the year 1863. The diet was named the “Banting”, after its originator, William Banting. It consisted of four meals a day containing meat, greens, fruit, and wine (Wdowik). Dieting fads have grown exponentially since then. You now can’t read a magazine or go online without seeing something about the new revolutionary diet or weight loss supplement. Some of the more popular diets have included the Zone Diet (blocking your calorie and food intake into different “zones” depending on your goals and activity levels), and the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet will be the main focus of this research essay. I feel this diet has proven to be the most effective and nutritious for the subject involved.

        I became interested in this diet earlier this year. While sitting in my Nutrition class at the College of Western Idaho, diets and popular diet culture suddenly became the topic of conversation. My professor, being a certified dietician, highly recommended this diet because its heavy reliance on vegetables and little use of red meat. I found this to be very interesting because I don’t like to use much red meat as it is, and I was looking for an easier way to eat healthy while still maintaining a unique and entertaining flavor profile. After trying the first few recipes I was hooked. It took no longer than a week for me to become interested in the diet and learning more about it.

        The Mediterranean diet has very unique origins. It began in a land historians call “the cradle of society”. They call it this because this is where the whole history of the ancient world took place. Because of the immigration from civilizations such as the Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, and Cretens, throughout the centuries it became a melting pot of modified cultures, customs, languages, and ways of thinking (Altomare, Cacciabaudo and Damiano).

        The exact origins of the diet specifically are a little bit lost, because it is not so much of a diet in the sense of the word we use today, it is more of a diet in the sense that this is the normal way of eating in the Mediterranean culture. It is modeled around mostly Roman and Greek styles of eating, which back in the Middle Ages included mostly wine, bread, oil products, vegetables such as leeks, lettuce and chicory, and a strong preference for fish and seafood. The rich would gorge themselves in all of these types of food, while the slaves mostly ate bread, olives, and olive oil. Islamic culture greatly impacted their way of eating, also. With the introduction of Muslims came new agriculture and new crops, such as sugar cane, rice, citrus, spinach, and spices (Altomare, Cacciabaudo and Damiano).

        As I mentioned before, the Mediterranean Diet is not so much a diet as it is a nutritional model. Most of the foods follow along a food pyramid. Many of the foods seen in the diet today greatly reflect the origins of the diet. In order to follow along with the foods today, there is a very popular chart called the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, or MDP. On the top of the pyramid you will find sweets, then meats, then dairy, and so on all the way to the bottom where you will find not food, but physical activity. One thing that I found interesting was that weekly physical activity is included in the MDP and is seen as an important part of the lifestyle. It serves as a complement to the diet by balancing energy intake, and maintaining healthy body weight. Pictured below is the most recent version of the pyramid (Bach-Faig, Berry and Lairon).

[pic 1]

As you can see most of the diet relies heavily on fruits, vegetables, olive oil, water, and breads. Very little meat is used, and of that less than a quarter of it is red or processed.

        Now that we have all this information, the question has to be asked, why the Mediterranean? What makes this diet so much better than any of the others? Multiple studies conducted have shown that the Mediterranean Diet is very effective in reducing the risks of cardiovascular diseases, as well as many chronic diseases. A meta-analysis was done by the British Medical Journal titled Adherence to Mediterranean diet and health status. Their main objective was to systematically review the studies analyzing the relationship between the Mediterranean Diet and mortality rates. Their conclusion states;

This meta-analysis shows that adherence to a Mediterranean diet can significantly decrease the risk of overall mortality, mortality from cardiovascular diseases, incidence of or mortality from cancer, and incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. These results seem to be clinically relevant in terms of public health, particularly for reducing the risk of premature death in the general population, and are strictly concordant with current guidelines and recommendations from all the major scientific associations that strongly encourage a Mediterranean-like dietary pattern for primary and secondary prevention of major chronic diseases. (Sofi, Cesari and Abbate)

In other words, based on their studies, use of the Mediterranean diet will reduce the risks of deaths by cardiovascular diseases, or neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, and they strongly encourage the Mediterranean dietary pattern for the prevention of these major diseases. This study shows that the diet has a very significant impact on your overall health and well-being. This is due mostly to the lower level of cholesterol from eating plant based foods, replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats such as olive oil, heavily limiting red meats, and getting plenty of exercise. In fact, a study comparing whether or not exercise actually helped the diet showed that combining an exercise program decreased the fat deposits 29 percent around the liver, 22 percent in the abdomen, and 11 percent in the heart, as compared to the diet without the exercise.

        Now, these calculations are factual, but some people will stick to a much more regimen than others. Never forget that cheat days are ok! A diet shouldn’t be a chore or so strict that you can’t have any fun with it. As long as you stay on your goal 80% of the time, there is no reason why you shouldn’t indulge in that triple chocolate brownie you’ve been eyeing for a week. Strict dieting can be as harmful as it is helpful so don’t keep yourself from the things you love. Just remember, everything in moderation.



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