The Mediterranean diet is probably one of the most balanced and healthy diets that exist. Since 2013, it has been part of the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and encompasses a set of skills, knowledge, practices and traditions typical of the countries of the Mediterranean basin, specifically Cyprus, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Morocco , Portugal and, above all, Spain.
The concept of the ‘Mediterranean diet’ dates back to the 1960s, when the physiologist Ancel Keys found a certain correlation between the diet of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea and a lower incidence of cardiovascular diseases .
Since then, the scientific evidence has been accumulating. Meta-analyses, a type of scientific study that analyzes the strength of the scientific evidence provided by many previous studies on the same topic, show that the Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduction in the incidence of heart problems, certain types of cancer, diseases neurodegenerative diseases, obesity and diabetes mellitus. In general, it is associated with lower mortality and longer life expectancy. And from an ecological point of view, it has also been observed that it has a lower ecological footprint than other diets.
The Mediterranean diet also has a strong cultural component . In Mediterranean communities, the time of eating is also a time of social gathering and communication.
On paper —and although in each country, in each region and practically in each house, some foods vary or the quantities are modified—, the Mediterranean diet establishes its nutritional base in fruits , vegetables and legumes , which are considered essential in each food, accompanied by bread or another type of cereal and olive oil. In addition, it proposes the daily consumption of olives, nuts or seeds, spices —which enhance the flavor and reduce the amount of salt—, garlic and onion, milk and its derivatives.
Two to four eggs a week, as well as a portion of fish, shellfish or meat —mainly white, and occasionally red— complete this diet, which is accompanied by water, coffee, infusions and the occasional consumption of wine or beer. Some specialists do not include alcohol consumption as part of the Mediterranean diet. And there is no healthy dose for alcohol.
The Mediterranean diet includes some vegetables as popular as the sweet potato or the ubiquitous potato , whose origin is far from the Mediterranean: it was the Spanish settlers who brought these vegetables to Europe from the American continent, along with a legume that is widely used in the Mediterranean diet : the green bean. Peanuts, classified as nuts, are also American, although they are legumes.
As for fruits, the products of the Mediterranean diet of American origin are even more numerous. The pumpkin, the courgette, the pepper, the pineapple, the acerola, the custard apple and, of course, the tomato, the undisputed leader of this list. To this list of products we should add corn and, of course, cocoa.
If we go back to a time before Columbus, most of what was grown in the Mediterranean did not originate in this region either , but rather had been introduced over thousands of years of migrations, trade relations and exchanges with other towns.
Vegetables as characteristic as carrots, asparagus, spinach or the essential garlic and onion, as well as fruits as popular today as melon, cherry, plum, apple, pear, pomegranate, fig, grapes and even the very important olives , raw material for obtaining the oil that is practically defining of the Mediterranean diet, were introduced in Europe by different peoples — Persians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans — from different regions of the Middle East, Western and Central Asia. The same origin has the plants that gave rise to modern wheat and oats, and many legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and peas.
From tropical Asia came the cucumber and the aubergine, while the peach, the apricot, the Paraguayan fruit and the great family of citrus fruits have their origin in China, as well as rice or soybeans. Some foods originate in sub-Saharan Africa, such as watermelon, which comes from the Kalahari desert, or coffee, from northern Ethiopia.
There are not many products of Mediterranean origin . Among the vegetables, the chard, artichoke, cabbage, endive and escarole, lettuce, leek, beet, celery or the less popular thistle and fennel stand out.
The native fruits of the Mediterranean basin are reduced to fruits of the forest : the strawberry, the blackberry, the raspberry, the currant and, probably, the blueberry. Among the cereals, only rye can be said to be truly Mediterranean, and among the legumes, it is suspected that the bean comes from Algeria.
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