Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet is a modern nutritional recommendation inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of poor coastal regions of southern Italy, Crete, and coastal Greece in the 1960s.

Despite its name, this diet is not typical of all Mediterranean cuisine. In Northern Italy, for instance, lard and butter are commonly used in cooking, and olive oil is reserved for dressing salads and cooked vegetables. In North Africa wine is traditionally avoided by Muslims. In both North Africa and the Levant, along with olive oil, sheep's tail fat and rendered butter (samna) are traditional staple fats.

The most commonly-understood version of the Mediterranean diet was presented by Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard University's School of Public Health in the mid-1990s. Based on "food patterns typical of Crete, much of the rest of Greece, and southern Italy in the early 1960s", this diet, in addition to "regular physical activity," emphasizes "abundant plant foods, fresh fruit as the typical daily dessert, olive oil as the principal source of fat, dairy products (principally cheese and yogurt), and fish and poultry consumed in low to moderate amounts, zero to four eggs consumed weekly, red meat consumed in low amounts, and wine consumed in low to moderate amounts". Total fat in this diet is 25% to 35% of calories, with saturated fat at 8% or less of calories.

The principal aspects of this diet include high olive oil consumption, high consumption of legumes, high consumption of unrefined cereals, high consumption of fruits, high consumption of vegetables, moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly as cheese and yogurt), moderate to high consumption of fish, low consumption of meat and meat products, and moderate wine consumption.

More than any other food ingredient, olive oil represents the Mediterranean diet. Olive oil confers excellent flavor and mouthfeel to all foods on which it is used. Olive oil is also nutritious and contains a very high level of monounsaturated fats, most notably oleic acid. Epidemiological studies suggests that a higher proportion of monounsaturated fats in the diet is linked to a reduction in coronary heart disease risk. There is also considerable clinical data to show that antioxidants in olive oil can provide additional heart health benefits such as positive cholesterol regulation and LDL cholesterol reduction, and that it exerts additional anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertensive effects in humans.

A diet rich in salads was promoted in England during the early Renaissance period by Giacomo Castelvetro in A Brief Account of the Fruits, Herbs and Vegetables of Italy. He attempted, without success, to convince the English to eat more fruits and vegetables.

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