The term “Mediterranean diet” was first coined in 1980 after an academic-lead investigation of cardiovascular death rates in different parts of the world. While the US and Finland held high rates of cardiovascular disease, regions in Greece and Southern Italy had very low rates. After surveying the lifestyles of these regions, it was determined that diet was the greatest factor contributing to improved life expectancy. The Mediterranean diet has since been found to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and has also been successful for weight loss.
What is a “Mediterranean” Diet?
We hear the term on talk shows and see it on health-oriented magazine covers, but what does it mean to follow a Mediterranean diet? The Mediterranean diet consists of foods grown regionally in the Mediterranean. Coincidentally, these foods are mainly vegetables. The main part of this diet is comprised of vegetables, legumes, grains and nuts. Olive oil (which has long been known to prevent heart disease) and herbs are the main flavour enhancers used in this region of the world. A food handler with food quality training knows that red meat not only carries diseases but contributes to health risks like high cholesterol. The diets of Greece and Southern Italy consist of little to no meat, only fish. The question is then: how do these specific foods contribute to a longer life with less disease?
Monounsaturated fats are found in foods like avocados, olives and nuts. It is widely believed that monounsaturated fats protect against cardiovascular disease by increasing membrane fluidity and unclogging arteries. Foods high in monounsaturated fats have also been shown to decrease cholesterol and improve insulin sensitivity. Given that the Mediterranean diet places a high emphasis on olive oil and nuts, it is no surprise that 40% of the caloric intake of Grecians is from monounsaturated fats. This may seem astonishing to someone in food safety training here in North America where red meat dominates many kitchens – but let’s not forget that as a result of their largely plant-based diet, Greece has one of the lowest cardiovascular mortality rates in the world.
There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease; however, there has been significant evidence that sticking to a Mediterranean diet can improve cognitive ability. Doctors and researchers have seen links between unhealthy lifestyles and cognitive degradation, which is why the Mediterranean diet has in some cases been assigned to Alzheimer’s patient by doctors. Although many sources will give credit to olive oil for the diet’s health benefits, doctors seem to believe that it is a combination of omega-3 acids, antioxidants, flavanols, and vitamins all working together which improve human cognitive strength. As of now, clinical research courses would have to put much more emphasis on studying the effects of this diet on Alzheimer’s disease for its benefits to be proven; however, preliminary research has been promising.
Would you follow a Mediterranean diet if it meant reducing your risk of Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease?