Olive Oil in the Mediterranean Diet as the Best Diet!

  • Olive Oil in Your Diet
  • Olive Oil and the Mediterranean Diet
  • “Poor” Diet

Olive Oil in Your Diet

As we already described it, olive oil with its multiple benefits is the healthiest oil to be consumed. Still some particular aspects must be discussed:

  • –      Olive oil has great effect when replacing the unhealthy fats from your diet (trans-fats, saturated fats and cholesterol) with the monounsaturated fats (oleic fatty acid) that olive oil contains;
  • –      as researches showed, it is not the amount of fats what matters most, but their quality;
  • –      just adding olive oil to your hamburger will not lower your cholesterol since it has already a high content of unhealthy fats;
  • –      if you consume a lot of margarine, fast food products, snacks and other foods with hydrogenated fat, do not expect a little olive oil on your salad to save you (for example, if in somebody’s diet 50% of the fats are unsaturated, 30% saturated fats, 10% trans-fats and only 10% monounsaturated fats, it is very unlikely that this 10% of healthy fat will actually have some effect when other 40% fat is fighting against);
  • –      read carefully the labels of the food products you buy, avoid as much as possible the bad fats and try to replace the oil you use with olive oil;
  • –      use olive oil not only for salads but also for cooking;
  • –      starting to use olive oil is a good step for achieving great results for your health, but still, other criteria must be also followed

Olive Oil and the Mediterranean Diet

Olive oil played a very important role in the diet that people from Mediterranean countries were following 50 years ago for more than 4000 years. In fact, olive oil was the main source of fat in their diet (up to 80%). But let’s see what Mediterranean diet is and where it came from.

In 1948, the Greek Government invited the Rockefeller Foundation to make a study and determine how to raise the population’s standard of living. The research was made on the isle of Crete. However, Leland Allbaugh and his colleagues discovered that the diets and food consumption levels were surprisingly good. The results showed that 61% of the total energy in the diet of Crete were made up from plant foods while food of animal origin made up only 7% (USA had 29% at that period) and 78% of the table fats were from olives and olive oil. The report concluded that: “olives, cereal grains, pulses, wild greens and herbs and fruits together with limited quantities of goat meat and milk and fish have remained the basic Greek and Spanish foods for forty centuries; no meal was complete without bread, olives and olive oil contributed heavily to the energy intake, food seemed literally to be swimming in oil. Wine was consumed frequently, with the midmorning, noon and evening meals”.

But, the interest in health benefits of Mediterranean diets begins with the work of Ancel Keys who, in 1952, impressed by the low incidence in heart disease in the region, started a 15 years investigation known as “Coronary Heart Disease in Seven Countries”. Data from Spain,Greece, Italy, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, U.S.A. and Yugoslavia was compared and this information was used as the main research basis for the Mediterranean diet pyramid developed in 1990s.  Keys and the colleagues found out that the population of Greece had the lowest rates of heart disease and the highest longevity even if they were consuming a high amount of fat, similar to countries like U.S.A. Unlike the Mediterranean diet, Keys associated the American diet rich in meat and dairy fats with higher concentrations of blood cholesterol and therefore, with increased risk of coronary disease.

The Keys’ 1959 dietary advice for prevention of coronary heart disease:

  1. do not get fat; if you are fat, reduce

  2. restrict saturated fats: the fats in beef, pork, lamb, sausages, margarine and solid shortening and the fats in the dairy products

  3. prefer vegetable oils to solid fats, but keep total fats under 30% of your diet calories

  4. favour fresh vegetables, fruits and non-fat milk products

  5. avoid heavy use of salt and refined sugar

  6. good diets do not depend on drugs and fancy preparations

  7. get plenty of exercise and outdoor recreation

  8. be sensible about cigarettes, alcohol, excitement and business strain

  9. see your doctor regularly and do not worry

Another study between 1963 and 1965 by EURATOM (European Energy Atomic Commission) showed that the Mediterranean diet was based on plant foods and included olive oil as the main fat.

But the Mediterranean diet gained a world’s recognition only after 1993 when Oldways, the Harvard School of Public Health, and the European Office of the World Health Organization introduced the classic Mediterranean Diet at a conference in Cambridge, together with a Mediterranean Diet Pyramid graphic. The ones who developed this pyramid were two Greeks, Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou, Professor at Athens Medical School University, and Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, Professor at Harvard School of Public Health.

This pyramid, awarded by UNESCO World Heritage Status, is universally recognized as the “gold standard” eating pattern that promotes lifelong good health.

“Poor” diet

When Leland Allbough made his investigation in 1948 in Crete, he noticed that only one out of six respondents was happy with the diet, and he even cited one citizen:” We are hungry most of the times.” The most desirable foods in that period were meat, rice, fish, pasta, cheese and butter. The Mediterranean diet was in fact the “poor diet”. Eating a lot of plant foods including green herbs and very small amount of animal origin fat had great health benefits. However, the modernization of food industry and prosperity brought up to 3-4 times more meat consumption and other animal products, less fruits and vegetables and more processed foods combined with less physical activity. This modern diet became the reason for alarmingly increasing incidence of heart disease, obesity, diabetes etc. Today 40% of the products in supermarkets have hydrogenated fats. Genetically modified products are everywhere. We no longer know what we eat. And it is our fault too. What was “the poor diet” in the 1950’s is not so cheap anymore and few can afford to pay for it and even fewer to find natural products. For start, diminishing, if not totally avoiding the garbage that is sold as food would be great. Only by separating this from the good stuff, we might make better choices for our health today and for the future and of course for our children.

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