Nuts, cheese, fruit, fish… as far as diets go, the one followed in Mediterranean countries in the 1960s was definitely attractive. What we term the Mediterranean Diet today was followed matter-of-factly by the inhabitants of Greece, Italy, Spain and other countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea for years. There are a number of reasons to assume its effectiveness. The World Health Organization talks of its benefits in Europe’s new Health Evidence Network Synthesis Report, saying it protects against cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. But then it also says the same about The New Nordic diet, and also credited other Mediterranean habits — like shared eating practices, afternoon naps and lengthy mealtimes — for the health of people in the region.
In everyday terms, the appeal of this diet is clear: it relies heavily on the local and seasonal, which are buzzwords in the world of food today. Morevoer, unlike some other diets, this one offers its followers plenty of choice. The main foundation of the Mediterranean diet is a daily consumption of fresh vegetables, fruits, lentils, herbs, nuts and whole, unrefined grains. Besides these, there is also a strong emphasis on fish (had weekly) and other sources of healthy fat like olive oil.
The diet also allows for the consumption of dairy (particularly yoghurt and unprocessed varieties of cheese), poultry, and eggs. Red meat, however, is avoided or had only occasionally, as are foods rich in sugar.
Medical research backs the diet too. From 1984 to 2004, a study funded and supported by the US-based National Institutes of Health (NIH) looked at the diet and health of 74,886 women aged between 38 and 63 years. The researchers were mainly looking for incidences of fatal and non-fatal stroke, and coronary heart disease (CHD), and computed their Alternate Mediterranean Diet Scores from data submitted by the women themselves. They concluded that “A greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet, as reflected by a higher Alternate Mediterranean Diet Score, was associated with a lower risk of incident CHD and stroke in women.”
Bengaluru-based dietician Sheela Krishnaswamy sees a couple of minor chinks in the diet, but finds it well-balanced on the whole. “It includes a lot of fish and nuts, so if you are allergic to either, you should avoid it. For vegetarians also, it might not work very well,” she says, because of the emphasis on fish as a protein source, but also acknowledges that the diet itself offers a solution of sorts.
“Lentils are a part of the Mediterranean diet, but not recommended on a daily basis. Vegetarians who follow it, however, will need to have lentils daily for the protein intake, along with whole grains, fruit and vegetables,” she explains. Having said that, however, she does laud the diet for covering all the nutrients a human body needs. “There is also enough fibre in the diet to ensure that one does not overeat,” she adds.
In this column, we decode health trends and decide if it’s all just ‘hype’ or actually ‘happening’
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