Happy Mediterranean Diet Month everyone! Okay, that may be a little over the top, but my wife, Dr. Jan McBarron, and I are excited about this eat, drink and be merry annual event. As many of you and our listeners know, we’ve recommended this diet for years for its health benefits. It is my pleasure to share a little history and key components of this diet.
In 1993, the World Health Organization, along with the Harvard School of Public Health, introduced the classic Mediterranean Diet’s pyramid in order to visually define it. Basically as with all diet pyramids, this pyramid demonstrates a simple representation of diet and lifestyle choices. It is no surprise to us that being physically active and socialization with family and friends are its foundation. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, seeds and olive oil dominate the pyramid and are recommended for every meal; followed by fish and seafood to be eaten at least twice weekly; poultry, eggs, cheese and yogurt (in moderation) weekly; and meats and sweets sparingly.
The advisory board in 1993 selected this diet because they had noticed that the “poor” people in the southern Mediterranean regions reported to have the lowest rates of chronic disease in the world – their life expectancy was among the highest. And it was the board’s belief that the low instance of chronic disease and longevity was due to that particular population’s diet and lifestyle. According to the advisory board, not only were the “right” food choices essential but being active and socializing with family and friends are just as important. According to Dr. McBarron, “Socialization supports the psychological aspect of this [Mediterranean] lifestyle. Humans are social creatures by nature, and studies have shown that sharing meals and socializing lifts moods…making people happier.”
There isn’t one single ‘Mediterranean diet’ but it’s rather a lifestyle. According to experts, the Mediterranean diet works because it offers thousands of vitamins, minerals, micronutrients and antioxidants which can significantly lower risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other chronic diseases. That is why health organizations like the American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association all recommend the Mediterranean diet for health and longevity.
Can the Mediterranean diet stand the test of time? We’ve all seen diets come and go, and for the most part these “fad” diets fade away because they don’t offer long-term benefits. This isn’t true of the Mediterranean diet. This diet has been able to withstand the ‘modernization’ of diet and lifestyle for over 50 years. Why? Unfortunately, ‘modern’ or western diets are heavy in animal protein, processed meats, saturated fats and high in sugars. Experts agree that these modern trends have contributed to increased rates of heart disease, diabetes and obesity, among many others. The Mediterranean diet significantly lowers risk of all these and more.
At the 15th Anniversary Mediterranean Diet Conference in 2008, the advisory board made a significant change to the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid. The new pyramid now includes herbs and spices for taste and health benefits. The addition of tasty herbs and spices are essential to the traditional diet and lifestyle of the Mediterranean people. The advisory board also noted that there is strong evidence that herbs and spices offer many health benefits which may have contributed to the diet’s success. We know of no other diet that has incorporated herbs and spices into a food group by making them an essential part of a diet plan. Coincidence? We think not!
Celebrate National Mediterranean Diet Month with Oldways! Check out Healthy Tips to Make Every Day in May Mediterranean.