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The Mediterranean diet is a dietary pattern inspired by the traditional eating styles of countries in the Mediterranean basin, such as Greece and Italy. This diet has been recognized as one of the healthiest diets in the world and is often recommended for the prevention of various chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The term "Mediterranean diet" is attributed to the American physiologist Ancel Keys, who was the first to hypothesize and find a connection between the low-saturated fat, rich-in-olive oil and healthy fats dietary pattern typical of the Mediterranean region and the low incidence of cardiovascular diseases in the same area.
The Mediterranean diet is based on a diet primarily composed of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Red meat is limited and consumed only occasionally during the week, while fish and other seafood, such as crustaceans, are consumed more frequently. Other protein sources like eggs and cheeses (especially of sheep's origin) are integral parts of this diet, as are legumes, which are often used as a protein source.
The consumption of saturated fats is limited, and the preference is for the use of healthy fats (unsaturated or polyunsaturated), such as olive oil and oily nuts and fruits. The use of extra virgin olive oil is a cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet, which also includes the moderate consumption of wine during meals. However, this aspect is increasingly debated in the scientific community as it evaluates the relationship between the benefits of antioxidants and the issues caused by alcohol in wine.
A healthier and highly encouraged aspect of the Mediterranean diet is the use of spices with a reduction in the amount of salt to season foods.
Another important but lesser-known aspect of the Mediterranean diet is ritual fasting. Especially in places strongly tied to the Catholic religious tradition, there are many fasting days throughout the year. Fasting can be total, but more often it involves abstaining from eating certain types of foods, most often meat and other animal proteins.
The consumption of sweets is limited to special and significant events, while the consumption of processed foods is discouraged and almost absent.
Instead, there is an encouragement for the consumption of whole foods and fresh products, preferably local.
In general, the Mediterranean diet provides a balance of essential nutrients and a variety of healthy foods that can help maintain a balanced diet and good long-term health.