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Mediterranean Diet

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The Mediterranean diet is not a specific diet plan or diet program but a collection of eating habits that are traditionally followed by the people of the Mediterranean region. There are at least 16 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and food habits vary between these countries according to culture, ethnic background and religion. But there are a number of characteristics common to them all.


Researchers believe that The Mediterranean diet and lifestyle of that region was the secret to their good health. The typical fat intake ranged from less than 25 percent of their daily calories to over 35 percent -- but much of it came from heart-healthy olive oil. The Mediterranean diet boasted a low amount of artery-clogging saturated fat, coming in at no more than 8 percent of their total calories daily.


The traditional Mediterranean diet region were primarily based on diverse, nutrient-rich plant foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. The diets emphasize daily exercise, and a low consumption of meat. Moderate consumption of carbohydrates and fat are highly suggested.


The Mediterranean diet puts the emphasis on vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, cereals, and olive oil. The Mediterranean diet goes light on saturated fats and involves a moderately high intake of fish, a low-to-moderate intake of dairy products, a low intake of meat and poultry, and a regular, albeit moderate, intake of alcohol, mostly in the form of wine at meals.


Olive Oil in the Mediterranean Diet

Olive oil is first choice for investigation as it is used almost exclusively in Mediterranean cooking instead of butter, margarine and other fats. Olive oil is a rich source of monounsaturated fat, which is protective against heart disease, possibly because it displaces saturated fat from the diet. Olive oil is also a source of antioxidants including vitamin E. But it is important to remember that olive oil is used to prepare vegetable dishes, tomato sauces, salads and to fry fish.


Fruit and vegetables in the Mediterranean Diet

A high intake of fresh fruit and vegetables has been shown to be protective against both heart disease and cancer; probably because of the antioxidants they contain (3). Tomatoes have come under particular scrutiny because they feature so heavily in Mediterranean food. Tomatoes are indeed a major source of antioxidants and heat processing such as cooking, as in the preparation of tomato sauces is recommended as it increases the availability of lycopene, one of the main antioxidants in tomatoes.


Oily fish in the Mediterranean Diet

It has also been suggested that fish, in particular oily fish such as sardines, have important health benefits (4). Oily fish are a source of "good fats", such as 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.


The Mediterranean Diet and Wine

Throughout the Mediterranean wine is drunk in moderation and usually taken with meals. For men moderation is two glasses per day, for women one glass per day. Wine, especially red wine, contains a vast array of plant compounds with health-promoting qualities called phytonutrients. Among them, polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants, protect against LDL oxidation and other pathologic sequelae of the oxidative process. Other phytonutrients play a role in the inhibition of platelet aggregation, vasodilation,etc.

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