Mediterranean Diet is not a Fad
First described by Ancel Keys over 50 years ago, the Mediterranean diet has proven its efficiency over thousands of years, since the times of Ancient Greece, who spread the culture of Olive trees and oils all over the Mediterranean.
As science keeps on discovering benefits of this healthy and tasty approach to nutrition that can prevent up to 70-80% of chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart conditions, high blood pressure, even helps with dementia (Ancel Keys, lived to be a hundred and was intellectually active at the age of 97) more on more people realise it is not a fad.
The Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle adjustment that can actually improve the quality of life and prolong it while being beneficial to the environment.
The best part is - it actually tastes great and is not that difficult to follow.
What is in the Mediterranean diet?
Most of the proteins in the Mediterranean diet come from pulses, legumes and locally seasonally grown fruit and vegetables. This means lots of fibre, antioxidants and other nutrients with anti-inflammatory potential.
Greeks, a nation that supposedly invented the Mediterranean diet, eat up to 750 grams of vegetables per day. The EU average is 250 grams per day.
Professor Antonia Trichopoulou, from the University of Athens, says:
"It is not that the Greeks like veg any more than you do, but combining it with extra virgin olive oil makes it taste so good."
Fish is eaten often. Eggs and fermented dairy from goats and sheep are eaten moderately. There are almost no processed foods or red meat.
This kind of nutrition brings in a lot of good for you Omega 3 fats, instead of bad for you Omega 6 found in vegetable oils, cookies, cakes. Fats from all kinds of nuts and the aforementioned Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
It has to be Extra Virgin, and it has to be spicy, bitter, fruity and robust in flavour.
All this flavour comes from polyphenols, the most important ingredient of the Mediterranean diet. You can find polyphenols in many coloured plants too, but no source is as abundant and easy to get as Olive Oil. Extra Virgin, of course.
What does Extra Virgin mean?
Extra virgin means that green fruits of the Olive tree were pressed mechanically, in the shortest possible times from harvest to ensure all of the goodness, flavour and healthy ingredients are preserved. The fresher the oil, the better it is. Traditionally, a stone press is used.
No chemicals are used in the process.
Extra virgin olive oil should be purchased within 12 to 18 months of its harvest date and should be ideally used within a month from of opening the bottle to get all the goodness - so if you are not getting your oil from local producers or distributors, make sure to check the label.
Health benefits you can taste
You can recognise the extra virgin olive oil by its robust, bitter, even pungent flavour producers work hard to maintain. It varies from year to year, depending on the weather, winds and rains, but if it makes you cough when you taste it - it is good for you.
To get the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, you have to consume at least 30 to 50 ml per day. Greeks consume 70 ml per day. You cannot overdose on extra virgin olive oil. We’ve tried.
With all the proven health benefits, maybe you should splurge on a good quality extra virgin olive oil instead of a nice bottle of wine next time you go shopping for food.
How do you incorporate olive oil into your diet?
- Adding Extra Virgin Olive Oil to pasta reduces the glycemic index
If you’ve ever eaten a plate of pasta in Italy or an Italian restaurant, you know that it comes with a healthy glug of Extra Virgin Olive Oil on top. What you did not know is that this glug makes your pasta healthier since it reduces the glycemic index of the entire meal, making the carbs easier to digest.
A group of Italian scientists published an extensive paper proving these beneficial characteristics of Extra Virgin Olive Oil for diabetes patients.
So, if you are wondering how to try your olive oil - go for a slab of crusty wholewheat bread and all the benefits are there. Use it to soak in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and you have done your 30 to 50 ml of the day.
- Extra Virgin Olive oil reduces calorie intake
Even if you eat a simple thing like a salad, Extra Virgin Olive Oil can help you feel more full, helping you maintain a healthy calorie intake. What you eat is 80% responsible for maintaining a healthy weight - so there is no use exercising if you continue eating burgers and fries.
If you instead steam some green, leafy vegetables and cover them in Olive oil you will get even more of the polyphenols, making it even healthier.
Make your gut bacteria happy.
- Marinating red meat in Extra Virgin olive oil reduces risks of cancer
When you throw a nice piece of red meat on the grill, you are cooking up amines that happen on the spots where your meat darkens and produces the irresistible crunchy, smoky flavour of the well-done kind.
Trouble is, heterocyclic amines (HCAs) found in cooked meats, particularly well-done and processed meat, are associated with an increased risk of breast, colorectum, and prostate cancer in many epidemiological studies.
Good news is, if you marinate it in wine, garlic, onion, rosemary and extra virgin olive oil, you protect the meat from burning by 80-90%, thus reducing the amines and risk of cancer.
If you sip a glass of red wine with your meal, extra virgin olive oil and red wine’s synergy makes polyphenols even more effective.
- Protects Omega 3 fats in fish
Since Omega 3 fats in fish are heat sensitive, you should coat them in Extra Virgin Olive oil before baking or grilling, so it seals in the precious omega 3. Pour some Olive oil on top at serving and enjoy healthy goodness.
Make any food Mediterranean
As most benefits of the Mediterranean diet come from Extra Virgin Olive Oil, your first step towards a healthier diet would be switching to fresh Extra Virgin Olive Oil of good quality. Known expert on the Mediterranean diet out of Cambridge, Dr Simon Poole admits he likes to add a spoonful of olive oil to his porridge in the morning, making his northern European meals more Mediterranean.
You can do that too.
All of the information in this article came from Dr Simon Poole’s talk about Extra Virgin Olive Oil and the advantages of the Mediterranean Diet. Watch it here.
Dr Simon Poole is an authority on the Mediterranean diet and a co-author of The Olive Oil Diet with Judy Ridgway.