The Mediterranean Diet and Other Fad Diets

Going through diet after diet, sooner or later everybody ends up thinking that there’s nothing more to learn. Frankly, it doesn’t take long to get exhaustive hands on experience with just about all the major dieting concepts and to learn which way each of them is supposed to influence the body. And once you’re familiar with all the pros and cons of dieting, it’s only fair to think that nothing could surprise you anymore. Well, this is where the Mediterranean Diet comes in, ready to put an old idea to new use and help people all over the world shed pounds. 

The father of the Mediterranean Diet was Ancel Keys, a scientist who spent much of his life studying the impact of diet on human health. During World War II, Keys conducted an extensive study of starvation and subsistence diets known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment. The results were published after the war as a two-volume book called Biology of Human Starvation. It was at this time that Keys had a chance to observe the diet of people living around the Mediterranean, while being stationed in Salerno, Italy. He publicized the Mediterranean Diet in 1945, but the concept needed another 50 years to become popular.

What Keys noticed pretty fast was the people living in Italy drink a lot of wine and eat pasta and high-fat foods on a daily basis. In theory, cases of heart disease and high blood pressure should be common among such people. In practice, they aren’t. This made Keys take a closer look at their food and found that the biggest difference between the Mediterranean diet and the common American diet was the fact that Italians used olive oil for both cooking food and fixing salads instead of butter margarine, lard or sunflower oil. The same applies to Greece and Southern France.

Olive oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fat, which is protective against heart disease, and also contains olecanthal, an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. A secondary effect of the widespread use of olive oil is the displacement of saturated fat from the diet. The habit of eating fish, in particular oily fish such as sardines, has important health benefits. Oily fish are probably the best available source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats and the complex long chain derivatives of these fats appear to be particularly beneficial to heart health because of their anti-inflammatory and vasodilatory properties, which keeps blood flowing smoothly. Wine, especially red wine, contains a vast array of plant compounds with health-promoting qualities called phytonutrients.

Nevertheless, it is also pretty sensible to suspect that plenty of outdoors activity, coupled with life close to the sea has a big impact on the health of the people living around the Mediterranean. This means that simply replicating the traditional Mediterranean cuisine at home is not going to do the trick for you. Besides, not many people have the time and the inclination to cook their own food, using olive oil and other Italian ingredients. It doesn’t really matter how healthy these ingredients are. If you can’t see yourself spending a couple of hours in the kitchen making your own tomato sauce, then the Mediterranean Diet is not for you.

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