Many studies have shown that adults living in regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea have the lowest rates of chronic disease in the world. Moreover, women in Mediterranean countries from Spain through Greece come up time and again with low rates of breast cancer. But it is the Greek island of Crete that represents the epitome of the healthy Mediterranean diet.
Many cooks think that the Mediterranean diet is so obviously healthy. It is full of fresh vegetables, is high in fibre, and very low in saturated fat. The next best thing is that these foods are familiar to us. It doesn’t require us to make great leaps to enjoy the tradition.
The true Mediterranean diet also has a low glucose load. Although the Mediterranean has been mistaken as the pasta diet, in Crete not a lot of pasta is eaten. That’s more of an American interpretation! The Mediterranean diet, however, is not a low-fat diet. How much fat does it have? Studies show that it is about 30 percent fat.
It is even healthy at as high as 40 percent if the person is active and the fat is mostly vegetarian based. In Crete, the fat that is present is mostly in the form of olive oil. The more olive oil, the lower the rate of breast cancer. But there is a real need not to overdo the Mediterranean diet.
In the 1960s, when it was a very modest- calorie diet, it boasted the lowest incidence of overall cancer and heart disease in the world. But the Cretans have lost the heart disease edge to the Japanese. What’s changed?
The Cretans have nearly doubled their animal fat, potato, and egg intake while quadrupling the amount of meat they eat. Where the traditional Cretan diet was virtually all vegetarian, it is now becoming far higher in meat. The bottom line is simple.
The vegetarian diet of old, laced with olive oil, is an extremely healthy choice. It is high in complex carbohydrates from grains and legumes, and high in fiber from vegetables and fruit. Fresh plants, cereals, and olive oil secure a high intake of beta-carotene, vitamin C, tocopherols, and minerals.
The diet is filled with olive oil, leaves from lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, pasta, purslane, and many different kinds of vegetablles, chesse, fruit, and wine. But as the calories climb, so do the risks. The Cretans of 1960 were indeed lean and fit. The big jump in fat intake and calories has widened their girth.