Il US News & World Report classified it as the best diet in the world for the fifth consecutive year. This is the Mediterranean diet. Popular around the planet for its health-promoting properties – especially in the fields of weight management, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease – its simplicity and balance, combined with natural and tasteful foods, make the Mediterranean diet one lifestyle rather than a mere dietary model based on solid nutritional concepts and the importance of physical activity.
The dietician Ambra Morelli he explains in detail what its characteristics are, how it works and why it is particularly good.
What are the pillars of the Mediterranean diet?
In a single image that can encompass concepts of complexity and scientific rigor, I would say that the pillar is the balance between nutrients provided by the Mediterranean diet. I am referring to the balance between the nutritional needs of the human being and the quality and quantity of various foods, therefore of nutrients. A supporting pillar whose superstructures are composed of a series of food and nutritional elements, emblematic of this food style, which formulate a perfect, healthy nutritional melange, acting in synergy.
A composition game, in short, apparently complicated. To simplify while maintaining scientific rigor, let’s imagine it as a series of components for a cooking recipe, therefore, to be “Mediterranean”, you need to get the following “ingredients”:
- vegetables, legumes, fresh fruit (suppliers of fiber, vitamins and minerals). Furthermore, legumes as a valuable alternative to dishes (source of vegetable proteins)
- whole grains (because they have a higher fiber content, but not only)
- modest quantities of extra virgin olive oil (for monounsaturated fats)
- nuts, better if eaten at least a few times a week (among these almonds stand out due to the high intake of vitamin E)
- oily fish or white meats (protein quality and unsaturated fats) and, occasionally, non-preserved red meat. The meats, however, in modest quantities and above all not every day
- low-fat milk and dairy products, in limited quantities (not to forget the importance of calcium but to reduce the consumption of animal-based fats)
- wine? For millenary tradition, not for nutritional necessity but if so, in moderation (pay attention to alcohol consumption)
Finally, to compose these foods into pleasant recipes, you need to sprinkle a small amount of salt, preferring the use of aromatic herbs (polyphenols), then add a few seats at the table to share the pleasure of the meal and be happy. Last but not least, to complete the Mediterranean lifestyle, remember not to be lazy by dedicating a little to physical activity.
Is it true that the Mediterranean diet protects against the risk of diseases such as diabetes and some types of cancer? And why?
Yes, it has been proven time and time again by scientific studies. More and more, and in a more detailed way, the properties of individual foods within the Mediterranean diet are studied and their interference on the maintenance of health is studied but also on the treatment of diseases that are found more and more frequently such as, in fact, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Above all, they have shown great effectiveness on prevention, clearly the main objective, but also in the treatment of the same. This is mainly thanks to the intake of fiber, the reduction of fats in general, the reduction of simple sugars, the satiating power which in itself implies a remodeling of the attitude of overeating and therefore reduction of obesity, also as a factor favoring the diabetes but also the onset of some types of cancer, and in general the ability to contrast inflammatory processes.
In particular, its prevention efficacy has been demonstrated on some tumors of the gastrointestinal tract and its protective efficacy against type 2 diabetes and related diseases such as heart disease, obesity and this thanks to the properties of the individual foods that make up the diet. Mediterranean. Among these, the nutritional profile of almonds stands out, the beneficial effects of which have been highlighted by over 25 years of scientific research. Research started to understand the benefits of almonds for heart health and inaugurated by a study on the effects of a diet rich in monounsaturated fats of almonds on blood cholesterol levels (for more information, see, Spiller, GA, DJA Jenkins, LN Cragen, JE Gates, O. Bosella, K. Berra, C. Rudd, M. Stevenson, R. Superko. 1992. Effect of a diet high in monounsaturated fat from almonds on plasma cholesterol and lipoproteins. J Am. Coll. Nutr. 11 (2): 126-130). Today, decades later, almonds are one of the most studied foods globally and it is possible to count on a vast number of investigations that analyze their properties for cardiovascular health, weight management, diabetes.
A portion of 30 grams of almonds, integrated into one’s diet a few times a week, according to the “Guidelines for a healthy diet”, provides proteins (6 g), dietary fiber (4 g), good fats and important vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E (7.7 mg), magnesium (81 mg) and potassium (220 mg), with a low glycemic index. The consumption of almonds is therefore an important component in the context of a healthy eating style, even better if consumed as a snack, as a smart alternative to other types of snacks, often less effective from the point of view not only of one’s health but also of satiety. even in the long term.
Is the Mediterranean diet suitable for everyone?
Certainly, suitable for everyone and always: starting as children (even more so, as an educational heritage to learn how to eat well) until old age. The great variability also in taste offered by the Mediterranean diet guarantees everyone the possibility of a good choice and an element, not just, such as satiety with consequent “serene” consumption of food.
What is the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and carbohydrates?
It favors its consumption. Contrary to the prejudices against carbohydrates that are so much heralded today, it suggests their importance. In fact, carbohydrates must provide more than half of the daily caloric requirement, distributed between meals. In fact, our body works on sugars representing the main energy source, mainly derived from sugars, or carbohydrates, complexes (cereals to be clear) and a minimum amount of simple sugars (fresh fruit).
Could we call it a weight loss or maintenance diet?
In fact, neither one nor the other. If we really want to insert it in a context of technical definition, I would say maintenance but … of the continuous state of well-being in which there are no foods to be excluded but foods to be included in one’s eating habits, those of the Mediterranean diet, in an intelligent and conscious way.