Mediterranean diet

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Typically, a diet rich in pasta, bread, fruit, and vegetables, with moderate amounts of poultry and fish, cooked in olive oil and washed down with red wine. The Mediterranean diet is reputed to be among the healthiest in the world. Epidemiological studies show that Mediterraneans suffer less heart disease than people from northern Europe. Nutritionists believe that the typical Mediterranean diet reduces fat and increases the level of natural antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, significantly reducing the risk of heart attack.

Some people question the wisdom of a having a diet in which up to 40 per cent of the calories come from fat, and which encourages the use of alcohol. However, the fats in a Mediterranean diet are of a particular kind. Olive oil, the main fat in many meals, is very rich in monounsaturates. These are believed to protect cell membranes against the harmful effects of free radicals. The oily fish used in a Mediterranean diet (e.g. sardines and mackerel), are rich in long chain fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (ESA). This acid apparently makes the blood less likely to clot and also makes the heart less prone to dangerous irregular contractions. The Mediterranean diet (especially of Cretans) often includes a salad made of walnuts and purslane. This is rich in alpha-linolenic acid, a fatty acid known to protect heart attack patients from further attacks. In moderate amounts, red wine is believed to reduce the risk of heart attacks by making blood less likely to clot. (This effect of wine is thought also to explain the ‘French paradox’; the relatively high longevity of French people despite their notoriously high alcohol consumption.)

The benefits of a Mediterranean diet could, therefore, be due to any of a number of dietary factors. Some researchers think that the lifestyle of Mediterraneans also has health benefits. Many Mediterraneans still tend crops and live stock. This will give them the same benefits as regular, vigorous aerobic exercise.

Subjects: Medicine and Health.

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