UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has acknowledged the wealth of knowledge, skills and practices that constitute the Mediterranean Diet as an ‘intangible cultural heritage’ contribution to the world, in essence, not as relic of a former culture but as a living tradition of contemporary importance1,2.
The word ‘diet’ itself comes from the verb ‘διαιτάω/διαιτώ’ which means ‘to dwell’, ‘live’ or to pursue a particular way of living3. The world ‘Mediterranean’ resounds somewhat of Tolkien’s fictional settings as it truly represents middle earth or a location on this planet standing between two worlds. But unlike Tolkien’s ‘men’, who have a relatively shorter lifespan than the rest of his fictional creatures4, the Mediterranean people or at least those adhering to a Cretan way of ‘δίαιτα’, have been associated with a longer life expectancy and lower risk of chronic health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and metabolic disorders5,6,7,8.
- Why is the Mediterranean diet still in vogue, and how important is it for modern man? The World Health Organization (WHO) states that 63% of all deaths across the world are attributed to heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases9, dietary habits10 and physical exercise11 being important contributors to healthy ageing and, when unfavourably balanced, disease.
- In contrast, the Mediterranean nutritional model has been associated with multiple health benefits including reduced rates of cancer, diabetes, myocardial infarction or reduction of the risk factors precipitating conditions such as heart disease e.g. obesity, high blood pressure and abnormal lipid profiles leading to atheromatous vascular disease12,13,14,15. Moreover, the antioxidant components of the Mediterranean diet that are abundant in plant foods, extra virgin olive oil, red wine and the great variety of herbs indigenous in Mediterranean regions, seem to be responsible for the cardioprotective influence16 as well as the inhibition of key factors (at the cellular/ molecular level) in inflammatory processes underlying chronic disease17,18,19,20.
- The Mediterranean diet can be adopted without much difficulty across different groups of people and world regions facilitated by globalization. Fruit and vegetable components of increased antioxidant content, owed to exposure of native plants to extended growing seasons and ample sunlight21,22, can be incorporated in a variety of culturally diverse diets.
- The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet along with the satisfying flavours of its constituents offer a great opportunity for promoting nutritional balance without resorting to exclusive or extreme dietary interventions that are usually counter-productive in terms of long-term compliance.
Overall, the Mediterranean diet is among the juiciest, most vibrant and pleasurable nutritional models in the world. It has many practical advantages as well as several scientifically proven health benefits.
1. UNESCO (2012) Mediterranean Diet. [Online] Available from <http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/en/RL/00394> Accessed on 1 May 2012
2. UNESCO (2012) What is Intangible Cultural Heritage. [Online] Available from <http://www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?Ig=en&pg=00002> Accessed on 1 May 2012
3. Centre for the Greek Language (2008) Basic Lexicon of Ancient Greek. [Online] Available from <http://www.greek-language.gr/greekLang/ancient_greek> Accessed on 29 April 2012
4. Wikipedia (2012) Middle Earth. [Online] Available from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle-earth> Accessed on 29 April 2012
5. Huang, C. L. and Sumpio, B. E. (2008) Olive Oil, the Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health. Journal of the American College of Surgeons. 207(3): 407-416
6. Beneton, V., Trichopoulou, A., Orfanos, P. et al. (2008) Conformity to traditional Mediterranean diet and cancer incidence: the Greek EPIC cohort. British Journal of Cancer. 99: 191-195
7. Trichopoulou, A (2001) Mediterranean Diet: the past and the present nutrition. Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. 11(4): 1-4
8. Lloret, J. (2010) Human health benefits supplied by Mediterranean marine biodiversity. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 60: 1640-1646
9. WHO (2012) Chronic Diseases. [Online] Available from <www.who.int/topics/chronic_diseases/en> Accessed on 29 April 2012
10. Heinrich, M. and Prieto, J. M. (2008) Diet and healthy ageing 2100: Will we globalise local knowledge systems? Ageing Research Reviews. 7: 249-274
11. Ignarro, L. J., Balestrini, M. L. and Napoli, C. (2007) Nutrition, physical activity, and cardiovascular disease: An Update. Cardiovascular Research. 73: 326-340
12. Stock, J. (2011) Mediterranean diet for combating the metabolic syndrome. Atherosclerosis. 218: 290-293
13. Jones, J. L., Fernandez, M. L., McIntosh, M. S., Najm, W., Calle, M. C., Kalynych, C., Vukich, C., Barona, J., Ackermann, D., Kim, J. E., Kumar, V., Lott, M., Volek, J. S. and Leman, R. H. (2011) A mediterranean-style low-glycaemic load diet improves variables of metabolic syndrome in women, and addition of a phytochemical-rich medical food enhances benefits of lipoprotein metabolism. Journal of Clinical Lipidology. 5(3): 188-196
14. Kastorini, K., Nikolaou, V., Vemmos, K.N., Goudevenos, J. A. and Panagiotakos, D. B. (2011) Adherence to the Mediterranean diet in relation to acute coronary syndrome or stroke non-fatal events: A comparative analysis of a case/ case-control study. American Heart Journal. 162(4): 717-724
15. Ruidavets, J. B., Teissedre, P. L., Ferrières, J., Carando, S., Bougard, G. and Cabanis, J. C. (2000) Catechin in the Mediterranean diet: Vegetable, fruit or wine? Atherosclerosis. 153: 107-117
16. Perez-Martinez, P., Lopez-Miranda, J., Blanco-colio, L., Bellido, C., Jimenez, Y., Moreno, J. A., Delgado-Lista, J., Egido, J. and Perez-Jimenez, F. (2007) The chronic intake of a Mediterranean diet enriched in virgin olive oil, decreased nuclear transcription factor kB activation in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from healthy men. Atherosclerosis. 194: e141-146
17. Perez-Jimenez, F. (2005) International conference on the healthy effect of virgin olive oil. European Journal of Clinical Investigation. 35:421-424
18. Estruch, R., Martinez-Gonzalez, M., Corella, D. et al. (2006) Effects of a Mediterranean-style diet on cardiovascular risk. Annals of Internal Medicine. 145:1-11
19. Esposito, K., Marfella, R., Ciotola, M. et al. (2004) Effect of a Mediterranean style diet on endothelial dysfucntion and makers of inflammation in the metabolic syndrome: a randomised trial. JAMA. 292: 1440-1446
20. Mackenbach, J. (2007) The Mediterranean diet story illustrates that “why” questions are as important as “how” questions in disease explanation. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. 60: 105-109
21. Cook, N. and Samman, S. (1996) Flavonoids – chemistry, metabolism, cardioprotective effects, and dietary sources. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 7:66-76