40 Years of the Mediterranean Diet: The World

40 Years of the Mediterranean Diet: The World’s Healthiest Eating Plan

After centuries of culinary tradition, the Mediterranean diet was formally defined in 1980. On its fortieth anniversary, experts reveal the health benefits that have allowed the diet to endure and look ahead to its future.

In 1958, a physiologist from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health observed that incidents of coronary heart disease were more common in middle-aged Americans than their European counterparts living in Mediterranean countries.

Ancel Keys postulated that a correlation existed between people’s risk for heart disease and their eating habits and lifestyle.

“You can make extra virgin olive oil part of a (Mediterranean) dietary pattern to improve your health acutely and reduce your risk of severe coronavirus infection”. David Katz, Yale University

This observation led Keys to launch his seminal study, with participants from seven countries around the world – the United States, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, Japan and Finland – to verify the hypothesis. Consequent research showed a large discrepancy in the incidence and mortality of heart disease among the monitored populations.

Participants from Italy and Greece, who had similar eating habits, had the lowest heart disease rates among other participants. The same was true for their Japanese counterparts, whose diet was also plant-based, but lacked the unsaturated fat that Mediterranean populations were receiving mainly from olive oil.

Participants from Finland and the United States, on the other hand, had the highest rates of heart disease due to their high intake of saturated animal fat, the research concluded.

The Seven Countries Study demonstrated that low rates of heart disease can occur both with a low and a high intake of fat, depending on its nature and the dietary habits of the participants.

This revelation led to the formal definition of the Mediterranean diet in 1980 after the first results of the study were published by Harvard University.

Markos Klonizakis, a clinical physiologist at Sheffield Hallam University, in England, said one of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet is that there are many variations, making it adaptable across cultures. My team tried to apply a MedDiet closer to the Greek type, containing fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, olive oil and more,” Klonizakis said. Our research has repeatedly shown that the MedDiet can act defensively, providing short-term and longer-term benefits, either on its own or in conjunction with mild exercise.” Recently, we found that a Mediterranean-style eating pattern can quickly lessen the impact of Type 2 diabetes on microvessels, but more time is needed to ease the impact of aging on people,” he added. Klonizakis argued that the eating preferences of people can be shaped by many factors and the current pandemic may be one of them. Unhealthy food is easier to prepare. Maybe the coronavirus pandemic is a chance for us to start eating better,” he said. Of course, eating patterns are also a matter of trend, for example, the vegan regime has many adherents even though its benefits are not widely established, but nutritional tradition usually endures through time.”

David Katz, a doctor from Yale University and the founder of the True Health Initiative agrees. He told that part of the reason the Mediterranean diet is able to endure and remain popular is due to its cultural importance. It is not just a passing fad. “It has been making and keeping people healthy for generations,” he said.

Katz added that supplementing the MedDiet with extra virgin olive oil makes it more pleasurable and enhances its health benefits. Following a healthy diet helps to improve the immune system. “You can make extra virgin olive oil part of a dietary pattern to improve your health acutely and reduce your risk of severe coronavirus infection,” he said.

In 2013, the MedDiet was named as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity for both its health benefits and its cultural importance to the Mediterranean region.

The Mediterranean diet has been selected as the best diet of 2020 by the U.S. News and World Report. It was the third consecutive year that the Mediterranean eating plan was selected as the top diet.