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In praise of the Mediterranean Diet

More than a diet, it is a lifestyle and a mind-set, that unfortunately cannot be applicable everywhere

In praise of the Mediterranean Diet

Claudia Astarita

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What is the Mediterranean Diet? A couple of months ago, the New York Times tried to answer this question, emphasizing that "for decades, health authorities have argued that the diet of people living in Mediterranean countries, with its emphasis on olive oil, nuts and fresh produce, is a driving force behind the region's historically low rates of heart disease".

However, relaunching the argument of the British cardiologist Aseem Malhotra, the Times argues that the Mediterranean Diet is not only about low-fat food and olive oil, rather it is a matter of lifestyle, and in particular Italian lifestyle. To explain this, Dr Malhotra decided to visit with his staff the cradle of the Mediterranean Diet, travelling to Pioppi, a small village near Salerno where the average person has a life expectancy of about 90.

"They were surprised by how the people they encountered enjoyed and savored their food, turning every meal into an excuse for a social occasion with friends and family. They noticed that people spent a lot of time outdoors getting fresh air. Instead of designating daily periods of time to jog or exercise, they engaged in a great deal of leisurely physical activity like walking and riding bicycles. And they seemed to have low levels of chronic stress". This is how the British cardiologist realized that the Mediterranean Diet is about food, social interaction, exercise, sunshine, relax and fun altogether.

But if the Mediterranean Diet is a lifestyle more than a proper diet, "how can we combine all these lessons from this village with what we know about modern medicine?" Unfortunately, we all know that transferring a mind-set is a very hard thing to do. Look at Malta: this is another Mediterranean spot hosting a mix of sun, sea, fish, nuts and olives, but its biggest challenge at the moment is an obesity rate that is rising faster than expected. Apparently, working on a comparative basis could be the best way to answer Dr Malhotra's question, and find a way to spread the Mediterranean Diet mind-set.

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