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Mediterraneans Abandoning Their Diet

small italian town on Mediterranean coast
Ironically, just when we are coming to understand that the traditional Mediterranean Diet may be one of the healthiest eating styles in the world, the Mediterraneans are abandoning their famous diet.

Seventy years ago, a visionary scientist named Dr. Ancel Keys, while vacationing in Pioppi, Italy, noted that people of this small village to the south of Naples, seemed to be vigorous, healthy and exceptionally long-lived. Indeed, Dr. Ancel Keys, who lived to be 102 years of age himself, decided that the Mediterranean Diet was playing a large role in the exceptional health of the cultures. After decades of subsequent research showing benefits of various components of the Mediterranean Diet, the medical world has come to embrace this eating style.

Unfortunately, when the average American thinks of the “Mediterranean Diet”, he or she visualizes pasta or pizza. While these foods are consumed in small quantities by some of the traditional Mediterranean peoples, they are not the central features of this diet, nor the ones that promote health and longevity. Instead, the most important components of the Mediterranean Diet are lots of vegetables, fish and seafood with little red meat, olive oil, fruits, nuts and berries, legumes, and moderate amounts of red wine with the evening meal.

Sadly, this cardio health focused Mediterranean Diet is being abandoned by the people famous for inventing it. Recent reports indicate that Italy is the ‘fat man’ of Europe now with the highest rates of obesity on the continent. Obesity is particularly common in the young people where up to 36% of 12-16 year-old Italians are now overweight or obese.

The “Industrial Global Diet” is the new term for what we use to call the old standard American diet. When a country’s standard of living rises, the population tends to abandon its traditional eating patterns and instead adopts a diet of processed foods, fast foods, and high calorie fare. Italy, Spain, Greece, and Crete young people are abandoning the Mediterranean Diet and in all of these places, and their rates of obesity are skyrocketing.

In America during the 20th century, the rates of heart attack, diabetes, and cardiovascular death rose steeply for the first three-fourths of that century. The only time periods when these rates fell were during the two World Wars when rationing of meat, sugar, white flour, butter and gasoline, forced people to walk more and rely on home grown produce and locally caught fish.

Unfortunately, fast food, and high calorie processed food such as hamburgers, french fries, chips, candy bars, sweetened sodas, etc. are inexpensive and widely available. On the other hand, foods that make up the traditional Mediterranean Diet such as fresh vegetables, fruits, olive oil, fish, nuts, and berries tend to be more expensive. Some people complain that these days it helps to be wealthy if you want to eat like a poor Mediterranean peasant from centuries past.

Bottom line, now more than ever, it is important to follow a cardio healthy diet. One example of this is the traditional Mediterranean Diet. Try to eat at least two different colors (deeply hued vegetables and fruits are ideal) with each meal. Additionally, eat a small portion of lean protein such a fish, chicken breast, non-fat dairy with each of your three meals. For dessert, choose berries or other fruit. A glass of red wine with the evening meal is a good idea if you can limit it to never more than two glasses. Drink water, tea, coffee, or non-fat milk, and try to avoid foods that are processed. The closer you keep your diet to nature, the more vigorously you will thrive and the longer you will live.

A Typical Mediterranean Meal:

- Grilled salmon with grilled red, green and orange bell peppers tossed with olive oil before cooking.

- Spinach salad with tomatoes, dressed with olive oil vinegar. Ice water with a slice of fresh lemon.

- One glass of red wine, and or decaf coffee or tea.

- Berries for desert.

In Good Health,

James O'Keefe, MD

Photo credit: Pixabay Creative Commons