Mediterranean diet: good for adults and children

Fonte: shutterstock

pollica, a small town south of Salerno, among centuries-old olive groves, patches of broom and, in the distance, the deep blue of the sea. This is where the rediscovery of the Mediterranean diet began sixty years ago, one of the more ancient, famous and healthy eating styles of the world, declared in 2022 by Unesco intangible heritage of humanity.

In this article

  • History
  • Studies
  • The benefits
  • The benefits for mothers, for those looking for a child and pregnant
  • Meaning of the Mediterranean diet
  • Because it is good
  • How to eat Mediterranean today
  • In Del Paese, only a few follow her
  • It is not true that it makes you fat
  • How to make it easy
  • It is environmentally friendly
  • It is not expensive
  • Red wine?

The history of the Mediterranean diet

It all began in the XNUMXs with the work of the American physiologist Ancel Keys, expert in cardiovascular diseases, diseases such as heart attack, stroke, hypertension, atherosclerosis, which affect the heart and blood vessels. During some trips between Madrid and Calabria, Keys was struck by a strange phenomenon, namely the fact that the poor inhabitants of the country villages he visited seemed healthier and more long-lived than the wealthy citizens of the American metropolises.

The scholar immediately thought of a link with the typical diet of the Del Paeseni farmers: a frugal diet, made up of a few recurring ingredients such as

  • the bread,
  • tomato
  • and other fresh vegetables,
  • the legumes,
  • fruit,
  • olive oil.

Little fish and cheese, very little meat. Based in Pollica, Keys dedicated himself to deepening that bond in the following years.


The Mediterranean diet is GOOD. Here because

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The more Mediterranean you eat, the longer you live. Also, those who eat "med" get sick less. This diet protects against various diseases: cardiovascular ones before ...

The first studies: seven countries compared

One of the first scientific approaches to Mediterranean diet - by the way, Keys invented the expression, from the Greek diaita, "lifestyle" - was the so-called study of the seven nations. Together with an international group of colleagues, the physiologist analyzed and compared the diets and general health status of populations in seven very different countries. Discovering that the United States, Finland and the Netherlands, characterized by a diet richer in proteins and fats of animal origin, had a higher rate of cardiovascular disease than that of Mediterranean countries (Del Paese, Greece, former Yugoslavia) and Japan, where they ate very little of meat and butter.

"The study was then criticized from the point of view of the method," he recalls Stefania Ruggeri, nutritionist of the CRA, Council for Research and Experimentation in Agriculture. "But he deserves credit for having placed attention on the importance of the Mediterranean diet for health and for having inaugurated a line of research dedicated to the relationship between nutrition and disease prevention".

The benefits and the judgment of science: who eats "med" lives longer

There are now many scientific results that go in this direction. The EPIC study, for example, involved several tens of thousands of elderly people in 10 European countries, measuring for each a "Mediterranean index" of the diet, based on the consumption of particular foods. Well, it has been seen that the higher this index, the lower the risk of general mortality. In other words, that the more Mediterranean you eat, the longer you live.

Other studies have made it possible to understand that this eating style protects against various diseases: cardiovascular ones first of all, but also

  • obesity and diabetes,
  • Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease,
  • dementia,
  • some types of cancer.

Also here: who eats "med" gets sick less.

The benefits for mothers, for those looking for a child and pregnant

It's not all. "In recent years it has begun to be understood that, in addition to doing well in general, the Mediterranean diet is also good for two particular groups of people: men and women who wish to have a child and pregnant women (with their babies)" , says Ruggeri.

A series of studies conducted by the research group of Régine Steegers Theunissen, of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, for example, showed that strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet helps fertility - that is, it helps to get pregnant - even in couples who undergo assisted fertilization techniques.

Other research suggests that, in pregnancy, this feeding reduces the risk of neural tube defects, such as spina bifida and anencephaly, in the fetus, and also the risk of premature birth.

"And again: let's remember that a Mediterranean lifestyle helps to stay fit and we know how much overweight and obesity can lead to complications in pregnancy" she adds. Angela , nutritionist of ICANS, International Center for the Study of Body Composition of the University of our city. Mediterranean yes, but what does it mean?

But what exactly is the Mediterranean diet?

"A first, simple answer is that it is the traditional diet of the populations bordering the Mediterranean basin, from Portugal to Greece passing through the Middle East" he says. Laura Rossi, also a CRA nutritionist.

They are populations that for centuries have cultivated wheat and vines, harvested olives and aromatic herbs, raised sheep and goats and who therefore always brought bread or pasta (but also couscous and pita), olives and olive oil, wine to the table. , cheese, garlic and onion. And, from the discovery of America onwards, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and beans.

The importance of carbohydrates

If you want to give some numbers, it is one carbohydrate-based diet, from which 55-60% of energy should derive. Follow the grassi, with 30-35% and the protein, at most 15%. Carbohydrates come from cereals, fats from olive oil, nuts and oleaginous fruits (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts) and, to a lesser extent, from fish and dairy products, proteins above all from legumes and, to a lesser extent, from fish and meat. All accompanied by an abundant consumption of vegetables, raw and cooked, and fruit. In short, one diet with a strong prevalence of plant foods, although not completely vegetarian.

Not only that: for the definition of UNESCO and for a growing number of scholars, it is not only what is put on the table that counts, but also its origin, the preparation, the way to taste it. In this sense, the Mediterranean diet is a global lifestyle, which also includes the choice of fresh and wholesome food and the conviviality meals, to be consumed slowly and in good company.

Few animal proteins, lots of vitamins and good fats: that's why it's good for you

Obviously, the researchers didn't just observe that the Mediterranean diet is good for health, they tried to understand why.

"The first positive element is the low in protein and especially in fats of animal origin, which are associated with negative effects "explains Rossi." Another advantage: the high content of vitamins and mineral salts derived from fruit and vegetables. And again, the contribution of good fats, such as those of olive oil and the famous omega 3 fatty acids contained in fish and dried fruit, excellent for heart health ".

Can it be done today?

Get an idea of like eating mediterranean, today, it is not difficult, thanks to intuitive representations such as the classic food pyramid or to informative documents such as the Guidelines for a healthy and correct diet of the CRA.

The general indications are quite simple: every day yes to lots of vegetables, cereals (wheat, but also corn, rice, spelled, barley, oats) and pseudocereals (buckwheat, quinoa), to be consumed both whole and refined, and yes to some fruit and dried fruit and olive oil for seasoning.

Legumes are great (beans, chickpeas, peas, lentils), to be offered even four or five times a week or even every day. Fish is also good (including molluscs and crustaceans), to be brought to the table even three to four times a week.

A little less often, however, foods such as eggs, white meats and cheeses (a couple of times a week for each) or red meats and salami (once) should be consumed.

As a dessert, the "Mediterranean spirit" recommends preferring fruit, even dried fruit: some exceptions with an ice cream or a slice of cake (once or twice a week), however, it can be done!

In Del Paese you don't really follow anymore

"Yet, the feeling - and some studies confirm - is that in Del Paese, as in other Mediterranean countries, we don't follow it enough", he comments. Adults and even children follow her very little, for whom she would be very suitable.

The nutritionist Gianluca Tognon, a researcher at the University of Goteborg in Sweden, went to see how Mediterranean is the diet of children in eight European countries. The result of his survey, conducted in a sample of over 16 children by measuring a particular Mediterranean index, was surprising. Paradoxically, adherence to the Mediterranean diet is greater in the little Swedes than in the Del Paeseni ones and is even minimal in the children of Cyprus, one of the cradles of this diet.

There are many possible reasons for this disaffection. There are those who give the blame the cost, thinking that eating Mediterranean is too expensive. Who to the idea that this is a diet too complicated to bring to the table every day. After all, we all have less and less time to devote to shopping and cooking, while here we are talking about legumes, with infinite cooking times, and vegetables, very boring to clean and prepare. Who, finally, has fear that the Mediterranean will make you fat.

The false myth of the diet that gets fat

"Let's face it right away: this is really a false myth"Ruggeri comments." Indeed, it has been shown that following the Mediterranean diet well helps to reduce the risk of overweight and obesity ".

The first idea to get rid of is that we are talking about a diet made up of pasta and pizza. "The main components are vegetables and legumes and as far as carbohydrates are concerned, which are actually important, just regulate yourself". Pasta makes you fat, sure, but only if we eat too much of it. "In order not to take the risk, it is enough to learn to have a sense of portions, doing a little practice with the scale", suggests the nutritionist, who is also the author, with the chef Rubio, of the book The new Mediterranean diet (Gribaudo, 2022).

An example? "For an 1800 kcal nutritional plan, in one day as carbohydrates I can eat 30 grams of breakfast cereals, 120 grams of bread and 80 grams of pasta, possibly whole, which helps to give a sense of satiety". And also pay attention to the condiments: olive oil is good, but it is still a fat, you shouldn't overdo it.

How to make it easy

As for the fear that Mediterranean cooking is too complicated, a few little tricks can help. For legumes, for example, just get organized, soaking them the night before and cooking them, perhaps in a pressure cooker, while doing other things (like preparing children for school in the morning). "And if you haven't had time to prepare them, once in a while even those in a can or glass are perfectly fine" she advises.

Same goes for vegetables or fish. No time to clean lettuce or sea bass? One-off we can use the salad in a bag or a fillet, even if they cost a little more, or maybe canned tuna. "Finally, let's focus on simple recipes"he concludes." A pasta with tomato sauce with a drizzle of raw oil, a fish in the oven - a light cooking, which must not be followed - a cooked vegetable and that's it ".

The Mediterranean diet is environmentally friendly

It is good for health, but not only: the Mediterranean diet is also environmentally friendly. This is stated by the results of a series of studies on the environmental impact of different food models conducted by the "della cittàlla Center for Food and Nutrition", a foundation that deals with nutrition and nutrition.

In practice, the researchers went to see how much the various food groups (fruits and vegetables, cereals, meats, dairy products and so on) cost the planet, from the beginning to the end of their life, that is, from the field (or from farm ) to the plate. Passing through all the intermediate phases, such as industrial transformation, when needed, or domestic transformation, such as cooking. Many parameters taken into consideration in the calculation. Among these, the amount of water needed for the product (to grow it, process it, prepare it), the emissions of the so-called greenhouse gases, those responsible for the climate changes taking place in our planet and in general the ability of the earth to regenerate the resources consumed. .

The results of the studies speak for themselves: the foods with the lowest environmental impact are vegetables and fruit, followed by potatoes and cereals. As it happens, precisely the foods that are the basis of the Mediterranean diet. On the contrary, dairy products, fish and especially red meat, which according to the indications of the Mediterranean diet should be consumed in limited quantities, a few or very few times a week, are the most "expensive" foods for the planet.

In short, what is good for health and can abound in table has the least ecological impact, while the one that should be limited has the greatest impact: an inverse relationship that scholars have decided to represent with a double food pyramid: nutritional and environmental, placed side by side but inverted.

But how much do you cost me?

It is the doubt of many: but won't a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fish cost too much? There is a risk, because these products, together with a good extra virgin olive oil, can significantly affect the shopping cart. Especially in comparison with certain products of animal origin that today are decidedly cheap, such as chicken. And yet, eating Mediterranean without spending too much is possible. Just follow a few small tricks.

  1. Fruits and vegetables only in season. They are the best in flavor and nutritional quality and are also the cheapest, often on offer. With off-season products, however, the price immediately spikes high.
  2. Fish. It is not necessary to always focus on famous products, such as sea bream, sea bass, tuna steaks or swordfish. Blue fish, such as anchovies and mackerel, are excellent and cheap. It may be a little fatter, but just make a smaller portion.
  3. Extra virgin olive oil. It's true: the good one costs money. But beware: the Mediterranean diet does not mean drowning everything in oil. Using it in moderation they will gain line and wallet.

Red wine: better a little (or nothing)

Between oil, pasta and tomatoes, in the traditional representations of the Mediterranean diet a glass of red wine is never missing. "In fact, in the poor peasant diet, wine had a specific task, and that was to supplement the calories of all-in-all scarce meals" says nutritionist Laura Rossi.

Beyond the energy contribution, for a long time wine has been viewed favorably also by virtue of the content of substances considered beneficial for health, such as certain polyphenols and antioxidants.

Today, however, its role in a healthy diet has been downsized. A glass of red wine is accepted with meals, every now and then, but no more. International bodies such as the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer advise to limit consumption as much as possible or eliminate it entirely, as a prevention strategy for some forms of cancer.

  • Mediterranean diet
  • diet
  • 3-5 children years
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