“Key” foods of the Mediterranean Diet
By Despina Christodoulou
Dietitian – Nutritionist (BSc)
The Mediterranean Diet is a dietary pattern that is directly related to the way of life of the peoples of the Mediterranean. It consists mainly of pure and not at all processed foods. Seasonality and the consumption of traditional and local food products are also an important element of the Mediterranean Diet. The Mediterranean Diet is associated with low mortality and is associated with a low incidence of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and certain types of cancer. There are several studies that highlight the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet in general health.
One of them is the study of the seven countries which started in 1950. It concerned Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean countries, including Greece. The study of the seven countries was designed to investigate the relationship between diet and cardiovascular disease in relation to the fatty acids we ingest from the diet. The results of this study showed that the population of Crete had the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. The researchers concluded that these low percentages are due to the high intake of olive oil and the low intake of saturated fats of the Mediterranean Diet.
The purpose of this article is to inform the reader about some of the main pillars of the Mediterranean Diet such as extra virgin olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, which are the “key” foods and contribute to the positive their effect on our health. Extra virgin olive oil contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds based on its polyphenols. Polyphenols increase “good” HDL cholesterol and lower “bad” LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. The antioxidant properties of polyphenols help reduce cardiovascular disease and certain cancers by preventing the oxidation of LDL and the neutralization of free radicals respectively. Olives are also extremely rich sources of antioxidants. Fruits and vegetables are important to have in abundance daily in our diet, because they are an excellent source of fiber, which helps the proper functioning of the digestive system and normal levels of cholesterol and blood sugar. Consumption of many fruits and vegetables replenishes fluids and electrolytes, since on average 85-95% of their weight is water, thus contributing to adequate hydration in our body. Fruits and vegetables should be seasonal and as fresh as possible. This ensures the best quality and taste.
In addition, they are an important source of vitamins such as A and C and minerals. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. By legumes we mean ripe and dried fruits such as lentils, chickpeas, broad beans and black beans. Legumes are rich in plant proteins where they help in the formation and regeneration of cells in the body. Legumes are also considered a good source of carbohydrates. It is rich in vitamins A, B, C and minerals such as calcium, iron, potassium, sodium and phosphorus. Legumes are considered an excellent source of fiber. They can be combined with extra virgin olive oil and fresh vegetables for a complete nutritious main meal. Nuts are a key component of the Mediterranean Diet and have significant health benefits. They are a rich source of unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, protein, fiber, minerals and vitamins. Nuts are also excellent sources of antioxidants.
They lower the levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and increase those of “good” HDL cholesterol, lower triglyceride levels and improve blood pressure (if consumed without salt). Seasonality, biodiversity, environmental friendliness, traditional and local food products are typical of the Mediterranean Diet. The preference for seasonal, fresh and minimally processed foods maximizes the content of protective nutrients and substances in the diet.
Altomare, R., Cacciabaudo, F., Damiano, G., Palumbo, V., Gioviale, M., Bellavia, M., et al. (2013). The Mediterranean Diet: A History of Health. Iranian J Public Health, 42(5), pp. 449-457.
Castro-Quezada, I., Román-Viñas, B., & Serra-Majem, L. (2014). The Mediterranean Diet and Nutritional Adequacy: A Review. Νutrients, 6, pp. 231-248.
Schwingshackl, L., & Hoffmann, G. (2015). Does a Mediterranean-Type Diet Reduce Cancer Risk? Current Nutrition Reports, 5, pp. 9–17.
Simopoulos, A. P. (2001). The Mediterranean Diets: What Is So Special about the Diet of Greece? The Scientific Evidence. The Journal of Nutrition, 131, pp. 3065-3073.
J. Marrugat, M.I. Covas. (2004). Effects of differing phenolic content in dietary olive oils on lipids and LDL oxidation. European Journal of Nutrition, 43, pp. 140–147
Dietitian – Nutritionist (BSc)
She completed her undergraduate studies in 2018 at the European University of Cyprus in the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics. During her studies, she did her internship in private hospitals where, among other things, she worked with patients with problems such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. Also in the context of her studies she organized lectures in schools in order to promote the Mediterranean diet.
Her interest in special populations such as people with eating disorders led her to attend the Master Practitioner of Eating Disorder and Obesity training program organized by the Center for Training and Management of Eating Disorders (KEADD) in collaboration with the National Center of Eating Disorders Of Britain. He often attends workshops and seminars on new data and developments in the field of nutrition and health.
It currently provides body composition analysis and nutritional support at its offices in Limassol and Larnaca while also offering in-house services. At the same time he works in the field of promotion and sale of nutritional supplements. Its goal is to help its dieters adopt a healthy lifestyle, a healthy relationship with food and to help prevent obesity and overall well-being.