The Mediterranean diet, from history to the present day

The Mediterranean diet, from history to the present day

// May 5, 2021

The famous physiologist from Colorado Springs was a consultant to the American War Department in the Second World War.

During this time, he was fascinated by the data on the low incidence of cardiovascular and gastrointestinal diseases recorded in particular in Southern Italy and Greece. 

Ancel realized that the local population was much older than the prospect of life he knew, for this reason he studied the traditions focusing above all on nutrition.

 

In Pioppi, after the war, poverty was widespread and cooking was essential. 

In particular, the Cilento people were linked to the local production of tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and the famous pasta from the lands of Gragnano. 

Pasta a “pummarola” was the simplest daily dish, approached to sea fish and bread from the ancient stone ovens.

 

Ancel and his wife Margaret dedicated their entire life and experience to support the thesis that the  Mediterranean diet was a determining factor in longevity and, above all, in the lack of cardiovascular disease among people.

 

The Mediterranean Diet is the traditional food style of Italy, Greece, Spain and Morocco.

These peoples, mostly devoted to agriculture and fishing, have always eaten mainly whole grains, fruit and vegetables, legumes, extra virgin olive oil and dried fruit, as well as consuming fish, fresh dairy products to a moderate extent, eggs and white meats.

 

On the other hand, the consumption of red meat, sweets and alcohol was reduced, limited only to special occasions.

 

The result is a diet rich in fiber and “good” fats, low in harmful fats, ie saturated ones, typical of foods of animal origin. Speaking of numbers, the Mediterranean Diet is composed of approximately 55-60% of carbohydrates, 25-30% of fats (mainly vegetables) and only 10-15% of proteins.

 

This eating style was preventative against metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack, stroke, atherosclerosis and hypertension.

 

Unfortunately this precious diet is now moving away from the tables of the Italians, who seem to want at all costs to align with the American model, made up of fast food, red meat, butter creams and sugary drinks.

 

The war is over, well-being has increased, the era of modernity, technology and industry has begun. The barriers have fallen, the world has become smaller. Food is affordable for everyone, often at low cost. Advertising bombards us with colorful but artificial images. Work has become sedentary, time to eat little and with it also the desire to cook.

 

You eat something ready in a hurry, small but high-calorie, most of the time for a sense of satisfaction even when in reality you are not really hungry.

 

The result is that today in Italy 4 out of 10 adults are overweight or obese, with all the consequences of the case: diabetes, heart disease, cancer. The same, unfortunately, is true for children.

 

So how to go back to a healthier eating (and lifestyle) without denying the good things that progress has made?

 

Well certainly for the first step to realign with the dictates of the Mediterranean diet is to prefer whole grains (wholemeal bread and pasta, in addition to grains, such as barley, spelled, oats, …) to refined ones, as they are rich in slow-release fibers and energy, capable of satiating more and longer.

 

Experts also recommend consuming 5 portions a day of fruit and vegetables, preferring seasonal ones to fully enjoy their benefits. And remaining on the fruit theme, enriching the dishes with a little dried fruit is an excellent solution to make the meal more delicious and take on essential polyunsaturated fats.

 

Rediscovering legumes could also prove to be a valuable help, NOT as a side dish, but as an alternative protein source. Legumes combined with cereals are able to give us complete proteins, like those found in second courses of animal origin, but without saturated fats and cholesterol! Among the main courses it is important to know how to wisely alternate protein sources: fresh cheeses, fish (better if blue), eggs and white meats, limiting the red ones to the “Sunday lunch”.

 

Extra virgin olive oil must be the king of our table. Seasoning our dishes with a teaspoon of this precious “elixir” should represent the characterizing element of our cuisine. In this way we could avoid more problematic seasoning fats, such as butter, margarine and saturated vegetable fats such as palm oil.

 

It would also be advisable to limit the consumption of salt and simple sugars, both enemies of health. A way in reducing salt could be the addition of spices to the preparations that bring characteristic color, flavor and aromas, making the dishes unique and tasty. The advice for sweets, is to limit the consumption of desserts (always homemade) and even alcohol on special occasions.

Drinking water, at least 2 liters per day, could prove to be essential for our health, as we are made up of 70% of water.

 

In short, what our grandparents, were forced to do: eat what the land had to offer, the land they worked themselves, treating themselves to some more delicacies on Sundays!

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