A diet high in fat, carbohydrates and wine has been shown to lengthen life expectancy and lower rates of cardiovascular disease. Want to know more? Numerous studies have found the Mediterranean diet to be the healthiest, but what do they do differently?
People have been programmed to fear fat, brainwashed with fat free products and the latest diet trends (As shown in the blog linked below). However, here is a little secret, which is not so secret. Fat is good, if tips are taken from the Mediterranean’s. It shows a diet high in ‘good’ fat, is more beneficial in reducing cardiovascular diseases, than a fat restricting diet. (Edelstein, 2014).
Their diet consists of fresh plant based produce, grains and good fats, with more than half of their daily fat consumption coming from olive oil (See food pyramid). This is rich in Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid which promotes antioxidant production. It reduces Inflammation, decreases the risk of thrombosis and raises the blood concentration of high density lipoproteins. HDL’s carry cholesterol away from the cells, to be broken down by the liver. Oleic acid meanwhile reduces low density lipoproteins which carry cholesterol to the cells (Edelstein, 2014). Increased amounts of LDL’s can cause a build up in the artery walls restricting blood flow, which leads to cardiovascular diseases (Lean, 2006).
Saturated fat on the other hand increases low density lipoproteins (Lean, 2006). The Mediterranean diet incorporates little amounts of saturated fat, for example, by replacing butter with olive oil. One tbsp of butter is equivalent to 35% daily intake of saturated fat and 10% of cholesterol intake (Edelstein, 2014). In addition, most foods consumed are fresh. Processed meals are avoided, which have added saturated fat, sugar and salt to lengthen shelf life (Edelstein, 2014).
Mediterranean’s consume lower quantities of meat, due to a larger focus on plant based and nut proteins. Higher vegetable and nut intake reduces saturated fat whilst increasing linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids (Edelstein, 2014). These are essential fatty acids our body cannot produce, they form the structure of cell membranes (Geissler et al. 2011). Vegetables also contain vitamins, such as Vitamin A, B, C and E. These essential vitamins are important in supporting cell function and growth, they cannot be synthesised in the body (Barasi, 2003)
Antioxidant vitamins protect the body by stabilising cells during oxidation. They do this by donating electrons and preventing damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals attack healthy cells and are commonly associated with causing cancer and cardiovascular disease. (Lean, 2006). A diet lacking in antioxidants can lead to a build up of free radicals, which are by products of the body’s frequent chemical reactions (Cameron et al. 1995).
In Mediterranean culture, food is eaten slowly (Peckenpaugh, 2010). This promotes better digestion and also prevents overeating, as it takes twenty minutes for the brain to register as full. The food also contains high quantities of fibre which are insoluble vitamins. Fibre collects waste in the digestive tract to be excreted. This stops food building up and fermenting, which helps to prevent bowl cancer (Barasi, 2003).
In summary, the top tips from the Mediterranean’s are: eat fresh, eat slowly and eat colourfully. Remember, the beneficial compounds of Olive Oil break down and degrade when heated over 185’C, it is best used in its original state drizzled over salads and bread (See Link Below for recipes which choose olive oil as a replacement).
Olive Oil Recipe Ideas
Fad Diet Blog
Barasi, M. (2003). Human Nutrition, Oxford University Press, New York
Cameron, A. Fox, B. (1995) Food Science, Nutrition and Health 6th Edition, Edward Arnold, London
Edelstein, S. (2014) Food Science, Jones and Bartlett Learning, Burlington
Geissler, C. Powers, H. (2011) Human Nutrition 12th Edition, Elsevier Ltd, Elsevier
Lean, M. (2006) Food Science, Nutrition and Health 7th Edition, Edward Arnold Ltd, London
Peckenpaugh, N. (2010) Nutrition Essentials and Diet Therapy 11th Edition, Saunders, Missouri.