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The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is a composite of the cuisines, lifestyles and dietary habits of the people of Greece, Italy, Spain, southern France (Provence), Morocco and other Mediterranean regions. Many experts believe the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world. Research has shown that the Mediterranean diet offers significant protection against heart disease, various forms of cancer including breast cancer, obesity, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have also found that eating a Mediterranean diet is linked to a longer life.

People who follow the Mediterranean diet eat mostly plant-based foods including fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, whole grains, beans and lentils, olive oil and nuts. They also frequently consume goat or sheep's milk cheeses, yogurt, pastas and breads, and red wine. Fresh fish, poultry and eggs are eaten a few times per week.  Red meat is eaten in small portions only a few times a month. Processed foods are not eaten. The diet also includes daily vigorous physical activity.

Several studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of obesity. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that men and women who followed the diet most closely had the lowest risk of obesity. "These data suggest that the traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern is inversely associated with Body Mass Index and obesity," the study authors write. "This finding may be useful in the development of dietary approaches for dietary counseling and the prevention of obesity."

Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that people who ate a Mediterranean diet lived longer. The researchers found that those who followed the Mediterranean diet had a 25 percent lower risk of death from heart disease and a 24 percent lower risk of death from cancer. Those who followed the diet most closely had the greatest increase in longevity and derived its maximum benefits.

Research studies conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health have found an association between olive oil consumption and a lower incidence of breast cancer and osteoporosis. Another study conducted by researchers at Athens Medical School found that the Mediterranean diet may help protect against rheumatoid arthritis.

  1. The Traditional Healthy Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, Oldways Preservation & Exchange Trusts and the Harvard School of Public Health.

  2. Panagiotakos DB et al. Association between the prevalence of obesity and adherence to the Mediterranean diet: the ATTICA study. Nutrition 2006 May;22(5):449-56. Epub 2006 Feb 2.

  3. Schroder H. Adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet is inversely associated with body mass index and obesity in a Spanish population. J Nutr 2004 Dec;134(12):3355-61.

  4. Trichopoulou A et al. Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet and Survival in a Greek Population. N Engl J Med 2003 Jun:348(26):2599-2608.

  5. Trichopoulou A, et al. Consumption of olive oil and specific food groups in relation to breast cancer risk in Greece. J Natl Cancer Inst 1995 Jan 18;87(2):110-6.

  6. Trichopoulou A, et al. Energy intake and monounsaturated fat in relation to bone mineral density among women and men in Greece. Prev Med 1997 May-Jun; 26(3):395-400.

  7. Linos A, et al. Dietary factors in relation to rheumatoid arthritis: a role for olive oil and cooked vegetables? Am J Clin Nutr 1999 Dec;70 (6):1077-82

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