Since the 1950s, health professionals such as Ancel Keys have been studying the diets of the people of the Mediterranean. The people of Greece, particularly Crete, had the longest life expectancy in the world until the 1960s, followed by Southern Italy, Spain, and France.
The important aspects of the Mediterranean diet are high intakes of cereals, grains, vegetables, dried beans, olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, seafood, and fruit. Wine is taken with food in moderation. Meat and poultry are also eaten in moderation, with poultry more frequently served than red meat. Red meat consumed only few times per month. Animal fats in the form of butter, cream and lard are not included in the diet. Cheeses of the Mediterranean are most commonly made from sheep and goat's milk.
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. Olive oil is used as the principal fat, replacing other fats and oils (including butter, margarine and other vegetable oils).
The traditional Mediterranean diet is closely associated with the olive-growing regions of the Mediterranean Sea. Monounsaturated fats from olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids from fish are the predominant fats in the Mediterranean diet. Saturated fat, which is far more common in the diets of North Americans, makes up a relatively small portion of the Mediterranean diet.
For millennia, olives have provided a staple source of high-energy food and critical nutrients for the many civilizations that have thrived in the Mediterranean area. Olives also are rich in polyphenols and minerals. They are also considered to be highly alkaline.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentanoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are found in abundance in fatty fish and some marine mammals, as well as in the algae (seaweed) upon which they feed. A third polyunsaturated fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), can be converted into DHA and EPA. While alpha-linolenic acid is available from sources such as canola oil, flaxseed oil, and walnuts, its conversion to DHA is slow and inefficient. Scientists believe that direct consumption of DHA and EPA is the best way to obtain adequate omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Sesame seeds are rich in compounds with powerful antioxidant properties. Sesame seeds contain lignans, a class of chemicals known as phytonutrients that are responsible for a range of health benefits.
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