The Mediterranean Diet is based on the eating patterns in the Mediterranean region and focuses on fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains and healthy fats (1). A diet not invented, but discovered, is now recognized as one of the healthiest dietary patterns (2). UNESO defines it as “a social practice based on all the “savoir-faire”, knowledge, traditions ranging from the landscape to the table and covering the Mediterranean Basin, cultures, harvesting, fishing, conservation, processing, preparation, cooking and in particular the way we consume” (3). The Mediterranean region is considered the Mediterranean Basin that borders the Mediterranean Sea and includes parts of seven countries: France, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece, Malta and Cyprus (4). There have been foreseen health benefits of consuming this diet, classifying it as “heart healthy” due to its likelihood to reduce the risk for heart disease (5,6). Living on the southern coast of France, I not only experience the Mediterranean lifestyle, but I have the opportunity to consume a Mediterranean Diet.
The Mediterranean Diet was discovered to have particular health benefits by Ancel Keys of the University of Minnesota in the 1950’s. He happened upon this discovery while studying the health of poor populations in Southern Italy in comparison to the wealthy in New York. He found the Italian populations had lower levels of cholesterol and a low rate of coronary heart disease (1).
The diet is full of fresh foods including fruits, vegetables, herbs, fish, olive oil, breads, nuts and pastas (1). There is a very low consumption of red meats, poultry, butter, refined grains and processed foods. The diet is rich in fiber, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, antioxidant compounds, and essential vitamins and minerals; conversely, it is very low in saturated fats. Given the diet’s composition of nutrient dense foods, strong adherence to this diet is associated with improved nutritional adequacy (2).
A strong adherence to the Mediterranean Diet enhances the chances of improving your health status. It has been found to reduce the risk for mortality, especially due to cardiovascular disease (7). There have been many cohort studies conducted in the Mediterranean Basin often showing good adherence to the diet and resulting in reduced incidence for cardiovascular events (6). The benefits of the diet are likely to improve with physical activity as well, such as decreased blood levels of LDL (1).
During my time in the south of France I have noticed the influence the agriculture and natural resources of the Mediterranean Basin has on the cuisine. This area is rich in olive groves, offering a plentiful supply of fresh olive products. The sea offers fresh fish, shellfish and other seafood, while local markets sell fresh fruits and vegetables. Cattle farms are not as populous in this area, so the consumption of red meat and butter is not as high as other European regions (such as Northern France). However, considering I am still residing in France, pastries, baguettes, and of course cheese are a typical part of the French dietary meal pattern. This differentiates my diet somewhat from other Mediterranean regions. Thankfully, walking as a means of transport is very common if not necessary, offering an efficient form of daily exercise. Fresh and homemade are the two words that best describe home cooking near the Mediterranean. While residing with a local French family, I ate many freshly prepared meals. Everything made from scratch from salad dressings to whole grain bread.
The Mediterranean Diet is not an effort, rather a daily practice for many Europeans. As Americans, we may recommend it as a diet intervention or integrate it into our own eating habits for health reasons. This diet is seen to be successful by offering significant health benefits. This encourages me to try various diets from around the world that could potentially provide various health benefits for Americans, as well as a taste of a new culture.