Living long and living well, what is the secret of this winning combination? According to the most recent scientific researches, it seems that diet, intended as the set of food choices, plays a pivotal role in determining also our health. In previous posts we discussed about the longevity diet in Okinawa, the Japanese island where the people live long and healthy. Today we’ll see another cornerstone of healthy diet studied a lot by science, the Mediterranean diet.
Mediterranean diet, what is and its history –Mediterranean diet is called in this way since it includes the lifestyles and the food choices of the countries that overlook on the Mediterranean basin. The name Mediterranean diet was coined by the American scientist Ancel Keys, who spent 40 years in Italy, in particular in Cilento, a region in south Italy, in order to study the dietary habits of the inhabitants who all showed a lower risk of developing illnesses. Mediterranean diet has been listed in 2010 by UNESCO as intangible heritage of humanity and more and more researches are showing its role in attenuating or even preventing chronic diseases, cardiovascular problems, type 2 diabetes, degenerative illnesses of the brain but also some types of cancers, such as that of breast and colon (Romagnolo et al, Nutr Today, Sep 2017 - Tosti et al, J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci, Mar 2018 - Widmer et al, Am J Med, Mar 2015).
Mediterranean diet, benefits
The scientists are still trying to understand the mechanisms of action of Mediterranean Diet but it seems that this diet acts by lowering the circulating fats, it protects from oxidative stress and inflammations, plays a role in maintaining the health of microbiota, the bacteria that live in our gut, and regulates the hormones related to the risk of developing cancers.
Mediterranean diet, the pyramid
And what are the guidelines of Mediterranean Diet? Usually these guidelines are represented by a pyramid. The base of the pyramid shows the foods that should be included at every meal while the top the foods that should be limited, in the middle the foods that can be eaten daily or weekly according to their position in respect to the top. At the base of the Mediterranean Diet a high intake of good fats is placed. These good fats can be introduced thanks to the intake of extra virgin olive oil that is recommended at every meal. Mediterranean Diet includes also a high intake of vegetables, especially leafy greens, in particular two or more portions of vegetables at every meal are recommended (a portion corresponds to 200 grams of vegetables or 80 grams of salad).
Then it comes the fruit, one or two portions per meal (a portion corresponds to 150 grams). Another pivotal food of Mediterranean Diet is represented by whole grain cereals introduced in every meal, from one to two portions, in the form of bread, pasta, rice or cous cous (for the bread a portion is 50 grams, for pasta and rice 80 grams, if pasta is in combination with legumes such as in soups then the portion is 40 grams). Another good and healthy choice is to include from one to two portions per day of dairy products such as yogurt, milk or cheeses, possibly with a low fat content (a portion is 125 grams, for the cheeses 50 grams), one or two portions per day of nuts and seeds (a portion is 15 grams). While, for what concerns the legumes, the recommendations include two or more portions per week (for the dry legumes a portion is 50 grams, if fresh 150 grams), the same quantity for what concerns fish (a portion is 150 grams). Poultry can be eaten once a week while for what concerns the eggs the quantity is 2-3 eggs per week. Finally, the Mediterranean Diet includes a very low intake of processed meat, namely from zero to one portion per week. For what concerns the red meat, the recommendations say from zero to two portions per week and a low quantity of sweets. Mediterranean Diet considers also a moderate intake of red wine (D’Alessandro et al, Nutrients, 2014 - Vitiello et al, Ann Ing, 2016)