The term Mediterranean diet was invented by the physiologist Dr. Ancel Keys, who in 1952 conducted a comparative population study (7 countries study, Minnesota University, 1970) in 7 different countries (Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia, Finland, Japan, The Netherlands, USA).
Dr. Keys discovered that heart disease and cancer-related mortality was lower in all Mediterranean countries in comparison to the rest of the world. He also discovered that the Greek island of Crete had the lowest mortality rate of the entire study, specifically heart disease-related mortality. Even today, Crete is often the subject of specialized research in the context of nutritional studies.
The comparison of populations in these countries was based on the same living standards, same level of environmental pollution and stress, and Dr. Ancel Keys came to the conclusion that the only factor differentiating these populations was their nutritional habits and diet and more specifically the type and quality of oil consumed.
On-going monitoring over the years shows not only that the Cretan group has succumbed to the lowest percentage of deaths caused by heart attacks and blood-related diseases including diabetes, but it is also the most immune group to various types of cancer. Furthermore it is the longest living, as the researchers found out for themselves in 1991 with just over 50% of the original Cretan group found to still be alive as opposed to 0% in the Finnish group!
Recent scientific studies consider the Mediterranean diet as one of the healthiest and most integrated diets on an international level: rich in fruit, vegetables, bread, cereals, grain and legumes. There is ample fresh extra virgin olive oil on dishes and salads, whilst diary, fish and poultry foods are consumed in medium portions. Wine is also to be consumed in low to moderate amounts whilst red meat consumption is strictly limited to twice monthly. In other words, a diet low in fat and cholesterol, rich in antioxidants and monounsaturated fats (thanks to the extra virgin olive oil), and rich in carbohydrates and fibers.
Furthermore in 1993 and 1995, the International Conference on Mediterranean Diets officially established the MEDITERRANEAN DIET PYRAMID which is a cultural model for healthy eating that reflects Mediterranean dietary traditions historically associated with good health. The pyramid is primarily based on the long-standing food patterns of Crete.
More recently in 2010 and in recognition of its important contribution to good health, UNESCO decided to include the Mediterranean diet into its List of ‘INTANGIBLE CULTURAL HERITAGES OF HUMANITY’.
In doing so it officially recognized the Mediterranean diet as a nutritional model that has remained constant over time whilst helping humanity to maintain its diversity in the face of globalization.