All countries that border the Mediterranean Basin benefit from a sunny and warm climate, two main ingredients which contribute to one of the largest variety of fruit and vegetables available in this world. Every season bears its own signature, be it fruits or be it vegetables. Tomatoes, cucumbers, salads, oranges, peaches, cereals the list is endless and it represents the largest portion of the Mediterranean diet.
But thats just for starters, because the Mediterranean also means lots of fresh fish and shell fish, which are the other healthy ingredients that make up the Mediterranean Food Pyramid. Spains additional access to some Atlantic fishing is an added advantage.
The countries that border the Mediterranean Basin are many, each with its own traditions, its own ideas of flavours and thousands of different recipes used to cook or prepare what seem to be the same basic ingredients. Even though the Middle Eastern cuisine may present different flavours these are created with the use of spices and condiments; the same produce in Spain will taste quite different using different spices and condiments. This is what makes the variety of basic produce appear so vast across the Mediterranean.
The diets of countries like Greece and Southern Italy have been under extensive studies since the 60s in an effort to discover the reason for the low incidence of chronic diseases and high life-expectancy rates in those areas, compared to Northern countries. It would seem that the traditional Mediterranean diet delivers as much as 40% of total daily calories from fat, yet the associated incidence of cardiovascular diseases is significantly decreased.
This has been attributed to one common ingredient that is most extensively used in the preparation of food both in Greece and Southern Italy: olive oil. As a matter of fact olive oil is extensively used throughout the Mediterranean countries.
As a mono-saturated fatty acid, olive oil does not have the same cholesterol-raising effect of saturated fats and it is also a good source of antioxidants. Combining this with eating fish a few times per week, it benefits the Mediterranean people by increasing the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids - something that the rest of the developed societies dont get enough of.
There is also a general consensus among health professionals that the Mediterranean Diet is healthier than the North European because more grains, such as spaghetti, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and olive oil are consumed, whereas red meat is eaten more sparingly.
The health and therapeutic benefits of olive oil were first mentioned by Hippocrates, the father of medicine. For centuries, the nutritional, cosmetic and medicinal benefits of olive oil have been recognized by the people of the Mediterranean and were used to maintain skin and muscle suppleness, heal abrasions, and soothe the burning and drying effects of sun and water.
Recent research has now provided firm proof that a Mediterranean diet, which includes olive oil, is not only generally healthy, but that consuming olive oil can actually help lower harmful LDL cholesterol. Olive oil contains antioxidants that discourage artery clogging and chronic diseases, including cancer, whereas animal fats, which contain saturated fatty acids, exponentially increase blood cholesterol levels.
As doctors say, prevention is the number one factor for good health, so lets make the most of living on the Mediterranean and live healthily for many years to come.