By Elena Paravantes, RD | Reporting from Athens
The Miracle of the Mediterranean diet: It leads to long life, protects from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.
But do we really know what actually makes the Mediterranean diet so special? One might initially think it’s the ongoing flow of extra-virgin olive oil, but it’s much more than that. The true Greek Mediterranean diet is beneficial for many more reasons.
When did it all start?
Recognized as one of the healthiest diets in the world, the Mediterranean diet is not a creation of some doctor or nutritionist, nor is it a passing fad, it’s a centuries-
old eating lifestyle originally followed by the people living in the Mediterranean basin.
It all started when University of Minnesota Physiologist Ancel Keys studied the diets and habits of seven countries in the 1950s (often referred to as the Seven Countries Sudy), including the US, Japan, and Greece. He found that individuals from Greece had the lowest rates of heart disease and lived the longest even though they had a relatively high intake of fat. This astounding information was enough to take the Mediterranean diet from the tiny villages of Greece to the headlines of cities around the world. In 1993, two Greeks, Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Preventative Medicine and Nutrition at the University of Athens Medical School, and Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Cancer Prevention and Professor of Epidemiology at the Department of Epidemiology of the Harvard School of Public Health, developed the Mediterranean diet Pyramid under the auspices of Harvard University.
It has ever since become a scientific standard paving the way for nutritionists, doctors and specialists to identify what’s good for us and what’s not. Thanks to an ever-growing body of evidence that the diet can prevent everything from heart disease to cancer, the Mediterranean diet is what sets the standard for long life and good health.
Where is it today?
When you speak about the Mediterranean diet today people across the globe know what it’s all about. It’s been 15 years since the two doctors Trichopoulos developed the Mediterranean pyramid, and today you can find restaurants serving up Mediterranean-inspired delicacies on almost every corner and Greek food products in almost every major grocery store. There is even a packaging symbol, Med Mark, designed to help shoppers quickly identify healthy Mediterranean diet products in supermarkets. And recently the Mediterranenan diet was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status.
But although the Mediterranean diet has gained international recognition and increased popularity in many places in the world, one can’t say the same of its birthplace. A recent United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report shows that Greeks, Italians and other Mediterranean nations are consuming more calories, more saturated fat and anything but following their forefather’s diet.
Researchers attribute this change in eating habits not only to increased income but to diverse factors such as the rise in the number of supermarkets, working women having less time to cook, families eating out more often in fast-food restaurants, and of course, less exercise. Sadly today, a massive 75% of the population in Greece is obese or overweight – an ironic leader in the European Union.
What is the Greek-Mediterranean diet?
If you live outside of Greece you may think the Greek diet is made up of all those tasty dishes you find in Greek restaurants such as pastitsio, fried cheese (saganaki) and souvlaki. Actually these foods have little to do with the traditional Greek diet that is known for its health properties. When we talk about the Mediterranean diet, we are referring to the traditional dietary habits of the inhabitants of countries in the Mediterranean region.
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This article was last updated December 24, 2011 - 3:06 PM (GMT-4)