The word Mediterranean reminds me of my roots, and conjures images of sun-drenched coasts, delicious meals prepared from local harvests, and a stress-free lifestyle. It’s not surprising so many people equate the Mediterranean diet with health.
Diet is one of the most important risk factors within our control, accounting for almost 30% of the population risk for heart disease and 20% of the risk for stroke; and the Mediterranean diet is one of the most widely studied dietary patterns in modern history.
Our collective obsession with the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle began in the late 1950s when scientists noticed that Spain, Italy, Southern France, Greece and Turkey experienced far fewer deaths from heart disease than most other countries in the world. They eventually determined that low intakes of saturated fat were one of the diet’s features that protected the hearts of people in the region.
Although the Mediterranean diet is traditionally low in saturated fat, it is by no means a low-fat diet. The typical diet is made up of large amounts of healthy fats from nuts, fish and vegetable oils; an abundance of vegetables, fruits and legumes; and whole grain breads and cereals. I grew up watching my grandmother, or nonna, prepare delicious meals using ingredients like these all year round. Moderate consumption of wine and alcohol, low levels of stress, and active lifestyles also define the traditional Mediterranean way of life.