|"The Mediterranean Diet" |
by Anna Rita Mazzoli
Biologist and nutritionalist
More and more over the last few years we have heard the "Mediterranean diet" being talked about as the finest form of nutrition we can possibly use, but what in fact does it really mean and why are people so interested in it?
To start with, the original meaning of the word "diet", nowadays usually only associated with low calorie slimming regimens and self-denial, signifies a "way of life and a rule of life", and is related, in this specific case, with the act of eating.
Having made this point, the MEDITERRANEAN DIET is the centuries-old traditional food that the people living around the area of the Mediterranean Sea ate until the 1950's, the time of the economic boom. It was a simple diet, based essentially on the consumption of foods of vegetable origin (cereals, legumes, fruit and other vegetables), accompanied by a moderate consumption of olive oil, whose plant is to be found growing widely in all the countries situated around the Mediterranean.
The consumption of foods of animal origin was extremely limited and usually based on products from the sea, like fish. The positive role of this type of diet in the prevention of illnesses that are characteristic of our modern day, like cardiovascular diseases, emerged from the earliest studies, first started by A. Keys at the University of Minnesota in the 1950's.
Olives and olive oil, essential elements in the Mediteranean diet
What are the most important characteristics of this diet? First of all, it is based on an extremely high consumption of complex carbohydrates, in particular wheat and its derivatives (bread and pasta), and these form, together with a small percentage of simple sugars, 65% of the nutritive origins of the diet. 25% is formed by the consumption of lipids (olive oil), another 10% by proteins (meat, fish, legumes), which are mainly of vegetable origin: cereals and beans, like the combination of "pasta and beans", provide high quality proteins and can be used as a suitable alternative to meat; moreover the limited amount of lipids contained in the various types of legumes (beans, chick-peas, broad beans, lentils, peas) help balance our diet, which is generally too rich in fats.
The high fibre content (fruit, vegetables, legumes) is extremely important and, apart from creating the feeling of a full stomach, is also useful for a correct digestion and intestinal transit. In conclusion, the wide variety of aromatic plants present in Mediterranean Countries, like basil, parsley, rosemary and sage, make it possible to create highly flavoured meals while also consuming a limited amount of seasoning.