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What to eat to live longer: All about the Mediterranean diet

OUR REPRESENTATIONS OF HEALTHY NUTRITION were formed relatively recently: in the 1950s, the American physiologist Ansel Keyes decided to conduct the first of its kind study of the dependence of health on lifestyle. First of all, he was interested in the causes of cardiovascular diseases, the frequency of which increased rapidly in the United States, although the standard of living and health there was relatively higher than in post-war Europe. In those days, even the dangers of cigarettes were not completely sure, and the researchers tried to find an explanation for the fact that healthy people fall on the street and die “just like that.”

Who is healthier than all
Casey’s study was conducted in seven countries and tested the hypothesis that mortality and morbidity of the cardiovascular system depend primarily on diet and lifestyle. Seven countries were selected in four parts of the world with radically different diets: USA, Finland, Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia (Serbia and Croatia) and Japan. The results of this study strongly influenced the understanding of the importance of the diet and its effects: it was found that in the regions located in the Mediterranean basin, life expectancy is higher and mortality from cardiovascular diseases is lower. At the same time, the level of development of the healthcare system, and the standard of living in general, were much lower in these countries than in the USA.

That is how the term “Mediterranean diet” appeared – a diet typical of the inhabitants of some Mediterranean countries in the 1960s. Researchers around the world became interested in the results, and Case, thanks to his scientific works in 1961, got on the cover of Time magazine.

You are what you eat
The Mediterranean diet consists mainly of plant foods – not excluding milk, meat and fish. It is not based on recommendations for the daily amount of fats, proteins and carbohydrates and not on the calorie intake, but on the frequency of consumption of certain groups of products for different time intervals. Now the Mediterranean Diet Score Tool, a fourteen-point questionnaire, is used for determining the conformity of the Mediterranean diet throughout the world, where one point is awarded for each positive answer. The higher the result, the more the diet corresponds to the Mediterranean – and the higher the correlation with health-positive effects such as weight loss and the risk of chronic diseases. Recommendations for each group of products are divided into daily, weekly and monthly use.

Vegetable products are essential daily: these are at least two servings of vegetables (about 400 grams) and three servings of fruits (about 240 grams). In addition, it is recommended to eat three servings (about 450 grams) of legumes and one portion (about 30 grams) of nuts per week. Such a variety provides the body with fiber, and vitamins, and minerals. Fiber is proven to reduce the risk of heart disease and malignant tumors.

Olive oil is the main source of lipids and generally the main cooking oil of the Mediterranean diet. Its beneficial properties for the heart have been known for more than a decade. A meta-analysis of cohort studies showed that increased consumption of olive oil reduces both the overall mortality rate and mortality specifically from cardiovascular disease, as well as the risk of stroke. The Mediterranean diet also includes at least three servings of fish and seafood per week. Fatty fish species are a source of omega-3 fatty acids, essential for maintaining the life cycle of heart cells. Seafood is also a source of iodine, and it is part of the hormones necessary for growth, differentiation and tissue regeneration.

What about wine, meat and soda?
In Italy, Greece and Spain, it is customary to drink a glass of wine with food. As you know, excessive drinking is harmful to health, and there is no evidence that increasing the amount of alcohol in the diet can be beneficial. Those planning to follow the Mediterranean diet are not encouraged to increase their wine consumption – but it would be nice to replace other alcoholic drinks with wine. Moderate consumption of dry wine correlates with a slight decrease in the risk of coronary heart disease, but its excessive amount (more than five glasses a day), on the contrary, significantly increases the risks.

Meat and animal products are not excluded – it is a source of protein, amino acids, B vitamins and certain minerals. White meat, such as chicken, is preferred, and red meat and meat products are rarely consumed, only a few times a month. Recall that in 2015, WHO classified red meat as “most likely contributing to the development of cancer,” and meat products as “causing malignant tumors.” When choosing meat, it is better to choose varieties with less fat. It is recommended to eat eggs in the Mediterranean diet two to three times a week, and choose dairy products with a low fat content – this will allow you to eat balanced and not get too much saturated fat.

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