The Mediterranean diet has won a place in UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The proposal to include the Mediterranean diet in the list of UNESCO was made on the initiative of Greece, Spain, Italy and Morocco.
The Intergovernmental Committee of UNESCO is meeting until the 19th November in Nairobi, Kenya. It decided on 46 new entries in the list that include flamenco, human pyramids of Catalonia (known as “Castelli”), French cuisine, Beijing Opera, etc.
According to UNESCO the Mediterranean diet constitutes a set of skills, knowledge, practices and traditions ranging from the landscape to the table. This includes crops, harvesting, fishing, conservation, processing, preparation and consumption of food.
It is characterized by a nutritional model that has remained constant over time consisting mainly of olive oil, cereals, fresh or dried fruit and vegetables, a moderate amount of fish, dairy and meat, and many condiments and spices. All are accompanied by wine or infusions.
The Mediterranean diet (from the Greek work diaita (δίαιτα), or way of life) encompasses more than just food. It promotes social interaction since communal meals are the cornerstone of social customs and festive events. It has given rise to a considerable body of knowledge, songs, maxims, tales and legends.
The system is rooted in respect for the territory and biodiversity. It ensures the conservation and development of traditional activities and crafts linked to fishing and farming in the Mediterranean communities; Soria in Spain, Koroni in Greece, Cilento in Italy and Chefchaouen in Morocco are examples.
Women particularly play a vital role in the transmission of expertise, as well as knowledge of rituals, traditional gestures, celebrations and the safeguarding of techniques.
To answer all your questions about the Mediterranean Diet and encourage you to follow it as much as you can Greek Reporter recently interviewed Clinical Dietitian-Nutritionist, Alina Farmaki on its benefits!
Why is the Mediterranean diet one of most healthy diets in the world?
Mediterranean diet is indeed one of the most known and beneficial diets worldwide. Its diet started to be investigated about 50 years ago, after the observation within the framework of a study called the Seven Countries Study that the farmers from Crete were holding the title of the “gold standard” of health status globally and had a very low prevalence of both cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer.
The base of this population diet was the olive oil, whole wheat bread, cereals and grains, rice and potatoes. Apart from these, they consumed lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes daily. The consumption of dairy products, eggs, fish and poultry was carried out weekly, while this of sweets and meat was restricted to once or twice per month or just on special occasions.
What kind of health dangers we can avoid following this diet?
Since then, the health benefits that the adherence to Mediterranean diet offers have been extensively investigated and well documented. It has been found that a dietary pattern that resemble to the diet of Cretans protects from several chronic and degenerative diseases such as obesity, diabetes, CVD, metabolic syndrome, cancer and depression. These protective effects derive from both the variety of special constituents of the foods that included in Mediterranean diet and the restriction of other. In particular, Mediterranean pattern provides lots of antioxidants and vitamins from fruits, vegetables and olives, and fibers from grains and legumes that protects and promotes health, whereas the sugar from sweets and the saturated fat from red meat that contribute to the risk of several diseases were consumed less frequently providing in this way extra protection.
We have to take into account that the Mediterranean diet lacks of packed, pre-prepared and fast food, that are main sources of trans fat, one of the most unhealthy compounds, and are deprived of nutrients because of the heating process providing only low quality fat and calories. At the same time, we do not have to forget the high levels of physical activity achieved by the farmers that contribute to maintain health, as well.
Do countries of the Mediterranean still follow this diet?
Firstly the Mediterranean pattern is not just a dietary, but a lifestyle pattern. However, this lifestyle was gradually abandoned giving place to the Western lifestyle which was adopted from many Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain contributing to higher percentages of childhood and adulthood obesity and relative co-morbidity like diabetes, exceeding in some cases these of Northern countries.
For this reason, there is a need to preserve and promote the Mediterranean diet adopting a healthier lifestyle that resembles this of Cretans during 1960s and includes physical moderate activity the most of the days of week and a diet rich in whole wheat cereals and grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products in a daily basis; olive oil as the main added fat; moderate alcohol consumption; fish and poultry twice per week and red meat once per week. Sweets, sugar-added non-alcoholic beverages, packed, pre-prepared and junk food would be better to be consumed sporadically with caution.
This kind of diet could play a preventing role for several diseases, promoting the health benefit not only of Mediterranean.