28.3.08

I was perhaps a Mediterranean in my past life

I love Mediterranean cooking. Pasta, loads of herbs, lots of fresh vegetables, balsamic vinegar olives and olive oil. I know it is nutritious and best of all, it is delicious.

This is a fact: the incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries is low compared to that in the United States. Could this be entirely because of the food the Mediterraneans eat?

You better believe it. But what is a Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean diet was found to have high consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread, cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds. Olive oil is significantly consumed which is deemed to provide mono unsaturated fat. Take note that poultry, red meat, fish, eggs are consumed from almost nil to 4 times a week, while wine is consumed from low to moderate amounts.

Think about it: more than half the fat calories in a Mediterranean diet come from mono unsaturated fats mostly provided by olive oil. Mono unsaturated fat doesn't raise blood cholesterol levels the way saturated fat does. It seems that it is a tool for “counteracting degenerative processes mediated by free radicals”.

There is also a strong “epidemiological evidence that suggests that specific fatty acids help ameliorate cognitive processes”. Fatty acids like oleic acid, “was found to protect against “cognitive decline specifically, elderly population of Southern Italy” per study conducted by Solfrizzi et al.”

“They found that high intakes of mono unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) appeared to be protective against age-related cognitive decline and suggested this effect could be related to the role of these fatty acids in maintaining the structural integrity of neuronal membranes”.

Although, other factors such lifestyle, ethnic background, religion, economic conditions and effects of agricultural style of production may possibly play a part to these observations, Mediterranean style of cooking may also seem to play an important role. The Mediterranean diet is a heart-healthy eating plan combining elements of Mediterranean style cooking. It incorporates the basics of healthy eating, plus a sprinkling of flavorful olive oil , and perhaps a glass of good red wine.

"Again this eating pattern has been associated with a lower level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation — a change in LDL cholesterol (the 'bad' cholesterol) that makes it more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.

Consider also that grains in the Mediterranean region typically contain very few unhealthy trans fats, while bread is an important part of the diet. Observe the fact that throughout the Mediterranean region, bread is eaten without butter or margarines (which contain saturated fat or trans fats).

Mediterranean cooking and all, be careful about choosing oils too. Take olive oil. All types of olive oil provide mono unsaturated fat, but "extra-virgin" or "virgin" oil are the least processed forms, and so contain the highest levels of the protective plant compounds that provide antioxidant effects. And what about nuts? Nuts are high in fat — up to 80 percent of their calories — but tree nuts, including walnuts, pecans, almonds and hazel nuts, are low in saturated fat. Walnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids. Nuts are high in calories, so care should be taken. Not more than a handful a day and avoid honey-roasted or heavily salted nuts.

And wine? The health effects of alcohol have been debated for many years, and some doctors are reluctant to encourage alcohol consumption because of the health consequences of excessive drinking.

However, light intake of alcohol is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Red wine is said to provide an aspirin-like effect, reducing the blood's ability to clot, and also contains antioxidants. The Mediterranean diet typically includes some red wine, but this should be consumed only in moderation. This means no more than one 5-ounce glass of wine daily for women (or men over age 65), and no more than two 5-ounce glasses of wine daily for men under age 65.

Lastly, take everything said here with a grain of salt. To be sure consider consulting a health provider.

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