Mediterranean-style eating has long been thought of as healthy, but now even mainstream medics are singing its praises.
There’s mounting evidence to suggest that a diet full of fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, beans, wholegrains, nuts and olive oil – all key characteristics of Mediterranean cuisine – could make a significant difference in reducing the risk of illnesses like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia.
Leading UK doctors collectively wrote to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, urging that the Mediterranean diet is given much more priority in the UK.
Sent just before December’s G8 summit on dementia, the letter pointed out that a Mediterranean diet is ‘possibly the best strategy currently available for tackling dementia’.
The thinking is that, rather than waiting until health problems arise and then seeking medicines, Brits need to be encouraged to prevent illness more, with eating well being a key component.
GP Dr Simon Poole, one of the organisers of the letter, says: ‘With Alzheimer’s cases expected to rise threefold over the next 30 years, and diet and lifestyle clearly dramatically reducing the risk of developing dementia, we feel there’s evidence for more investment in education and health promotion around healthy diet and lifestyle.’
Dr Poole, who runs a non-commercial website (tasteofthemed.com) to promote the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet and also imports extra virgin olive oil to the UK, explains that the benefits are linked to it being ‘high protection/low damage’.
This means it contains relatively small quantities of undesirable saturated fats, but high amounts of vitamin, mineral and antioxidant-packed fruits, vegetables, olive oil and fish oils.
‘We’re beginning to understand why all the elements in the Mediterranean diet come together,’ he explains.
‘It’s a balance of polyunsaturates, high monounsaturates in the form of olive oil, low saturated fat because red meat is only consumed once every few weeks, and low glycaemic index carbohydrates.
‘It’s no one thing,’ he adds. ‘And instead of being boiled out of vegetables, vitamins are absorbed into the olive oil as part of the cooking process.’