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Olive oil

The Mediterranean diet

Scientific research has left no room for doubt: the Mediterranean diet is a valuable ally for our health. Olive oil, pulses, fruit, vegetables and fish (among other things) have beneficial properties that contribute to our defence against many diseases. But what exactly are the overall benefits of a Mediterranean diet and what should we know about it?
The Mediterranean diet refers to the nutritional habits of people who live in areas around the Mediterranean Sea, where olive trees grow in abundance. It is a healthy way of eating inspired by the dietary habits of people living in Greece (particularly in Crete), Italy, Spain and the coastal areas of the Middle East along the Mediterranean.
There are many variations of the Mediterranean diet, as the countries of this region are more than a few.
The huge appeal of this diet has been aided by research showing that people who live around the Mediterranean have a longer average life expectancy and are less likely to suffer from heart disease or other chronic illnesses.

The advantages:
1. Thanks to the variety of foods that make up the Mediterranean diet, there are limitless possibilities. A particular food can be prepared in a number of different ways. Greens, for example, can be served as a salad, or cooked as a pie filling, or prepared as a side dish.
2. Enjoyable and healthy. Pulses, vegetables and grains, combined with olive oil and herbs such as oregano, thyme and others, contribute to a healthy diet that is also particularly delicious.
3. A shield for our health. It has also been scientifically proven that those who follow a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of developing coronary heart disease, compared to those who follow a different diet. In addition to the beneficial action on the heart, the Mediterranean diet has also been linked to protection against diabetes, obesity and certain types of cancer (e.g. large intestine). The rich fibre content of grains (complex carbohydrates) also help to protect against colon, breast, endometrial and prostate cancer. When consumed in large quantities, fruits and vegetables also appear to act against cancer in the digestive system and others types of the disease. Scientists stress that the action of the ingredients and foods that make up the Mediterranean diet results from eating them in combination and not in isolation from each other.
4. The antioxidant substances found in abundance in the components of the Mediterranean diet (vitamins A, E and C, beta-carotene and flavonoids, such as wine phenols, phenolic acids found in fruit, vegetables and olive oil) fight oxidation and slow the aging of the cells. That is the key secret of the Mediterranean diet which determines longevity.

View Mediterranean diet pyramid: click here...

 Its key characteristics are as follows:

1. It is rich in fruits and vegetables -particularly leafy ones- eaten mainly raw or lightly cooked. 
2. It contains large quantities of grains and pasta, whole wheat and traditionally prepared. 
3. It is abundant in pulses, seeds and nuts.
4. Animal products should be consumed in small quantities, particularly red meat, and dairy products should be eaten in moderation. Chicken and poultry in general are recommended.
5. Up to four eggs may be consumed per week.
6. The diet is rich in fish and seafood, which are an important source of omega-3 fatty acids.
7. Although it has a high fat content (about 35% of the calories consumed), it is low in animal fat (7-8%). Olive oil is preferred instead. The nutritional and biological value of olive oil for the human body is very important, which is why it is listed among the 10 most beneficial foods.
8. Wine should be consumed in moderation - one to two glasses a day.
Recent scientific studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet, which mainly relies on the consumption of olive oil, is the healthiest, and is responsible for longevity and the prevention of numerous illnesses. The therapeutic and health benefits of olive oil were actually first noted by Hippocrates, the father of Medicine. Olive oil was used for centuries to maintain the skin's elasticity, to treat cuts and scrapes, for rubs and to soothe the pain from burns.
With the past as our guide, we plan our diet today so we can be healthy tomorrow.

Gaitanio Moula
Dietician-Nutritionist, Alexandrian Technological Educational Institute of Thessaloniki (ATEITh)
Member of the Hellenic Association of Dieticians-Nutritionists (EDDE)

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