The Mediterranean diet was conceived based on the eating habits of people in Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Southern Italy, and Spain in the mid 20th Century.
It was first identified in the 1950’s when rates of chronic disease in southern Italy and Greece were found to be amongst the lowest in the world, and life expectancy amongst the highest. The diets of much of Greece and Southern Italy at the time differed from other regions, such as Northern Italy and Spain where meat and saturated animal fats were more prominent and olive oil often less so.
The Basis of the Mediterranean diet
While Mediterranean cuisines vary by region and are often interpreted in different ways, they are largely based on seasonal fruits and vegetables, accompanied by nuts, beans, cereal grains, wine and olive oil – and a relatively high consumption of fish and dairy products (such as cheese and yogurt) – compared with a relatively low consumption of meat.
The diet has been popular for many years but only started to gain wider support recently as more evidence emerged to show its effectiveness in reducing heart disease, chronic disease and promoting longevity – particularly over the low-fat diets championed by health bodies in the 1980’s.
More recently a study published in 2015 in the British Medical Journal’s publication Gut recognised the Mediterranean diet for the creating and maintaining health diversity in the gut microbiota and associated metabolome following a study of Italians based on their eating habits. In their findings a high consumption of vegetables and healthy fatty acids – the basis of the Mediterranean diet – was associated with improvements in the microbiome.
Healthy Fatty Acids
Olive oil –a significant component of the Mediterranean diet and a product high in ‘healthy omega-3 fatty acids’ is known to offer a number of benefits and there is mounting evidence that regular consumption of olive oil can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and a number of chronic diseases. However other often neglected components of this diet include the role of locally consumed wild greens, herbs, walnuts, figs and even snails which are all sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
How the Mediterranean diet helps cultivate healthy gut bacteria