THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET EXPLAINED BY DOCTOR PAOLA SALGARELLI
What follows is the translation of the original Italian article by Paola Salgarelli, biologist nutritionist, specialist in Food Science:
Since many years you hear about the Mediterranean Diet and its benefits, and about how lucky Italians are to have “naturally” that kind of lifestyle. But are we sure to know exactly what kind of diet it is? Who was born in Italy takes for granted that she eats according to the mediterranean style, but for the majority of the times as for today it is not like that anymore.
High-protein diet, junk food, ethnic food and many more are contaminating the ancient diet of our ancestors.
Therefore, let’s clarify well this concept: what do we mean by mediterranean diet? It is the typical diet of the countries which surround the Mediterranean Sea (so Italy too!), whose inhabitants were anciently mainly farmers or fisherman who, in order to survive, were using land products or the result of fishing and only rarely were eating meat. So, this kind of lifestyle is characterized by the use of fresh products, often combined together. It is abundant the consumption of fruit and seasonal vegetables, of cereals (often whole cereals), of fish (most of all, oily fish), of dried nuts and legumes. The use of meat is much less frequent.
The countries of the mediterranean area has been following this type of nutrition since the ancient time, but it has been from the 1960s that we started to use the definition “Mediterranean diet”. It was Doctor Ancel Keys who coined the term: he was the first biologist nutritionist in history, and, most of all, the first scientist to demonstrate the effectiveness of the mediterranean diet.
He was an American, from Minnesota, who in 1962 moved to Pioppi, in Cilento and after many years of study concluded that it was the food and the type of nutrition of that area which was responsible for the extraordinary benefit effects on the local population. Through its world-famous book “Eat well and stay well” he spreaded this nutritional style to the United States too.
Ancel Keys stayed in Pioppi for over twenty years and died in 2004, at the age of…100 years!!!
In his honour, since 2010 in Pioppi there has been a “Museum of the Mediterranean diet”.
How is it possible? The mediterranean diet has been discovered by…an American? Honestly, it not true: like we said before, this kind of diet has been present since the ancient time, but somehow Keys was able to invent the “brand” called Mediterranean diet!
From Ancel Keys days forward countless of studies have shown that this nutritional style has beneficial effects on health, helping to prevent obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and even tumors. According to UNESCO the mediterranean diet is “Intangible Cultural Heritage of humanity”, with the following motivations:
“The Mediterranean diet involves a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, animal husbandry, conservation, processing, cooking, and particularly the sharing and consumption of food. Eating together is the foundation of the cultural identity and continuity of communities throughout the Mediterranean basin. It is a moment of social exchange and communication, an affirmation and renewal of family, group or community identity. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes values of hospitality, neighbourliness, intercultural dialogue and creativity, and a way of life guided by respect for diversity. It plays a vital role in cultural spaces, festivals and celebrations, bringing together people of all ages, conditions and social classes.”
Therefore, the Mediterranean diet is a lifestyle and a culture, which strengthen the sense of the community and of sharing between the people living near the Mediterranean Sea. At the foundation of this lifestyle there is the theme of conviviality of consuming a meal together, with family or friends, to make relationship stronger and promote dialogue among people.
To understand better what the nutritional standard are for this type of nutrition, we refer to L.A.R.N. (in Italian: Livelli di Assunzione di Riferimento di Nutrienti ed energia; in English: National Recommended Energy and Nutrient Intake Levels). They are the recommendations which are periodically elaborated by SINU, la Società Italiana di Nutrizione Umana (Italian Society of Human Nutrition). In practice, they give nutritional indication about the intake of minimum levels of energy, micro and macronutrients and are specifically targeted to the Italian population. They are highly connected with the American R.D.A. (Recommended Daily Allowance).
L.A.R.N. are studied for the Italian population and, according to the last review of 2014, the macronutrient proportion referring to the mediterranean diet are as follows:
- Proteins: 0,9 g/kg
- Lipids of fats: 25-35% of daily energy requirements
- Carbs 45-65% of daily energy requirements
- Simple sugars: less than 15%
These percentages represent the ideal proportion of the mediterranean diet.
But this is not all: L.A.R.N. gives also indications on the quality of the nutrients which we intake.
For example, fats have to be mostly monounsaturated and and polyunsaturated (this means “good fats” which help the cardiovascular system) and carbs mainly with a low glycemic index. The glycemic index is a parameter which measures the ability and velocity of food to increase the level of glucose (glycemia) in the blood. In practice, when we eat food with a lot of carbohydrates, the level of glucose in the blood increase progressively while we digest starch and sugars. The velocity of the process changes with the kind of food we eat and is measured by the glycemic index. In general, we can say that food with low glycemic index are those rich in fibers, which slow down the stomach emptying, lowering the speed with which sugars enter the blood.
We deduce that, following what we have said so far, the Mediterranean Diet is at the top of the table for healthy nutritional styles. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to follow such a diet and often we are forced to choose, especially due to lack of time, quick but highly unbalanced meals.
The choice of a kind of food like Bivo represents a good compromise between convenience and the coherence with the mediterranean lifestyle.
In fact, the nutrients of Bivo have been fine tuned according to L.A.R.N. In this way, who wants to eat quick but healthy, will find in Bivo a valid alternative. In this product, completely of plant origin, the lipid source is represented mainly by polyunsaturated fatty acids of omega 3 and omega 6, which are useful to decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases and to contrast inflammatory processes, very frequent for sports persons too.
Moreover, it contains oat flour, a cereal with low glycemic index which is able to give the product the ability to satisfy effectively your hunger. A low glycemic index product is also very suitable for who do sport because it gives a lasting reserve of energy, which is useful for sustained efforts.
In conclusion, the message we want to give with this post it is not, of course, to give up “real food” and the pleasure of conviviality, typical of the Italian families. The point is that often our pace of work does not allow us to consume food like we would like to. For this kind of “emergency” situations, Bivo helps us, letting us to maintain our healthy and balanced nutrition.
Paola Salgarelli, Biologist Nutritionist, specialist in Food Science