Olive oil and vegetables
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The Mediterranean diet is a modern nutritional recommendation originally inspired by the dietary patterns of Greece, Southern Italy, and Spain in the 1940s and 1950s. The principal aspects of this diet include proportionally high consumption of olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits, and vegetables, moderate to high consumption of fish, moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly as cheese and yogurt), moderate wine consumption, and low consumption of non-fish meat and non-fish meat products.
Dietary factors may be only part of the reason for health benefits gained by certain Mediterranean cultures. Physically active lifestyle, lower body mass index, cessation of smoking and moderate alcohol consumption also may contribute.
A 2011 systematic review found that a Mediterranean diet appeared to be more effective than a low-fat diet in bringing about long-term changes to cardiovascular risk factors, such as lowering cholesterol level and blood pressure. A 2013 Cochrane review found limited evidence that a Mediterranean diet favorably affects cardiovascular risk factors.
A meta-analysis in 2013 compared Mediterranean, vegan, vegetarian, low-glycemic index, low-carbohydrate, high-fiber, and high-protein diets with control diets. The research concluded that Mediterranean, low-carbohydrate, low-glycemic index, and high-protein diets are effective in improving markers of risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
The Mediterranean diet often is cited as beneficial for being low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat and dietary fiber. One of the main explanations is thought to be the health effects of olive oil included in the Mediterranean diet. A 2014 meta-analysis concluded that an elevated consumption of olive oil is associated with reduced risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular events and stroke, while monounsaturated fatty acids of mixed animal and plant origin showed no significant effects. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fats, most notably oleic acid, which is under clinical research for its potential health benefits. Whereas there is preliminary evidence that regular consumption of olive oil may lower risk of all-cause mortality and several chronic diseases, the only approved health claim for olive oil is for protection by its polyphenols against oxidation of blood lipids.
Another 2014 systematic review and meta-analysis found that adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a decreased risk of cancer mortality.
According to a 2013 systematic review, greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease and slower cognitive decline. Another 2013 systematic review reached similar conclusions, and also found a negative association with the risk of progressing from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer's, but acknowledged that only a small number of studies had been done on the topic. The decreased risk has been estimated at 13%. It may also decrease other neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease.
Although there are many different “Mediterranean diets” among different countries and populations of the Mediterranean basin, because of ethnical, cultural, economical and religious diversities, the distinct Mediterranean diets generally include the same key components, in addition to regular physical activity:
- High intakes of extra virgin olive oil (as the principal source of fat), vegetables (including leafy green vegetables), fresh fruits (consumed as desserts or snacks), cereals (mostly wholegrains), nuts and legumes.
- Moderate intakes of fish (especially marine blue species), seafood, poultry, dairy products (principally cheese and yogurt) and red wine (with the exception of Muslim populations).
- Low intakes of eggs, red meat, processed meat and sweets.
Total fat in this diet is 25% to 35% of calories, with saturated fat at 8% or less of calories.
In Northern Italy lard and butter are commonly used in cooking, and olive oil is reserved for dressing salads and cooked vegetables. In both North Africa and the Middle East, sheep's tail fat and rendered butter (samna) are traditional staple fats.
In 2013, UNESCO added the Mediterranean diet to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of Italy (promoter), Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, and Croatia.
The concept of a Mediterranean diet was developed to reflect "food patterns typical of Crete, much of the rest of Greece, and southern Italy in the early 1960s". Although it was first publicized in 1975 by the American biologist Ancel Keys and chemist Margaret Keys (his wife and collaborator), the Mediterranean diet failed to gain widespread recognition until the 1990s. Objective data showing that Mediterranean diet is healthful originated from results of epidemiological studies in Naples and Madrid  confirmed later by the Seven Countries Study, with first publication in 1970, and a book-length report in 1980. The most commonly understood version of the Mediterranean diet was presented, among others, by Walter Willett of Harvard University's School of Public Health from the mid-1990s on.
The Mediterranean diet is based on what from the point of view of mainstream nutrition is considered a paradox: although the people living in Mediterranean countries tend to consume relatively high amounts of fat, they have far lower rates of cardiovascular disease than in countries like the United States, where similar levels of fat consumption are found. A parallel phenomenon is known as the French Paradox.
When Ancel Keys and his team of researchers studied and characterized the Mediterranean diet and compared it with the eating habits of the US and the most developed countries during that period, some identified it as the "Diet of the Poor". According to the famed Portuguese gastronomist Maria de Lourdes Modesto who met with Keys, Portugal was included in their observations and studies, and Keys considered Portugal had the most pure "Mediterranean" diet.[dubious ] However, Salazar, the dictator of Portugal, did not want the name of Portugal included in the diet of the poor.
Still today the name of the diet is not consensual among Portuguese gastronomists. After the Mediterranean diet became well-known, some studies evaluated the health benefits of the so-called "Atlantic diet", which is similar to Keys' "Mediterranean" diet, but with more fish, seafood, and fresh greens. Virgílio Gomes, a Portuguese professor and researcher on food history and gastronomy says, Portuguese cuisine is really an "Atlantic cuisine". The Southern European Atlantic Diet is the traditional diet of Northern Portugal and Galicia (Spain), and has been associated with a lower risk of non-fatal acute myocardial infarction.
- Cretan diet
- Cuisine of the Mediterranean
- Mediterranean Diet Foundation
- Wine and health
- Sustainable diet
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The increase in world-wide consumption of a Mediterranean diet, which includes a wide range of wheat-based foods, has possibly contributed to an alarming rise in the incidence of wheat (gluten?)-related disorders.1, 2
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Many factors have contributed to the development of gluten-related pathology, starting with the worldwide spread of the Mediterranean diet, which is based on a high intake of gluten-containing foods.
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