Ancel Keys, (1/26/1904-11/20/2004) was an American scientist who studied the relationship between diet and health. Included in his research, was the study of the incidence of coronary vascular disease related to diet. He noted that the highest concentration of centenarians in the world resided in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and therefore postulated that a Mediterrean diet low in animal fat could lead to a reduction of the incidence of heart disease. His early hypotheses and research perhaps served as a foundation for further studies of a Mediterranean diet over the past four decades.
The information generated by nutrition authorities and how we should eat over the past years has been somewhat misleading, however, as all dietary fats have been perhaps portrayed as detrimental to health. A low fat diet has been touted by authorities as the recommended guideline for prevention and treatment of heart and vascular disease. Nonetheless, the truth is that a traditional Mediterranean diet is not devoid of vegetable oils and indeed includes modest consumption of animal oils. Ratios and balance are key components of the premise.
In 2003, a study entitled, “Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet and Survival in a Greek Population,” a Greek researcher, Antonia Trichopolou, defined key components of this diet and demonstrated that greater adherence to a traditional Mediterranean diet was associated with a decreased overall mortality. The Mediterranean diet was quantified by its food group components. Each of the categories of food was assigned one point when consumed as recommendeded, and adherence was measured by totaling up the scores.
- Legumes such as peas, beans, lentils, peanuts
- Fruits, Nuts
- Whole grains
- Oils (unsaturated greater than saturated)
- Meats (lean red meat)
The results showed that a 2 point improvement on the scale from a base of 5-7 demonstrated a 25% reduction in death from all causes, including cancer and heart disease.
In 2013, in a study funded by the Spanish Government by Ramon Estruch et al, widely known as the PREDIMED study, demonstrated that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil and nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events.
Today I recommend that basis of the diet be looked upon as a guideline for how to select ingredients and prepare meals. The goal is not to eat tzakiki, moussaka and kebob, which might be literal interpretatios of a Mediterranan diet, but rather to look towards applications of the diet to accommodate American tastes and lifestyles.