The Mediterranean Diet, from the Greek word diaita, or way of life, came into the public eye in the 1960’s after an extensive study by Ancel Keys, the so called Seven Countries Study,which investigated the association between diet and cardiovascular disease. The study lasted 30 years (1940 – 1970), and involved 12,763 males across Yugoslavia, Greece (Crete and Corfu with a total of 1,215 male subjects), the USA, Japan, Italy, the Netherlands and Finland.Crete, in particular, demonstrated very low levels of cardiovascular disease, fewer incidents of strokes and some types of cancer, such as breast and colon cancer. The increased life expectancy level was attributed to the low saturated fat content of the diet, which was typical of the region. The results of the Seven Countries Study led to the conclusion that the food traditions of cultures and countries can have a difference in the effects on the health of their populations.

In 1993 based on the findings of a series of epidemiological studies, which analyzed the food and dietary customs of the Mediterranean countries, a committee of academics and researchers in the USA developed the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid.The great importance of the Mediterranean Diet not only to human health but also to culture is demonstrated by the fact that in November 2010 at Nairobi, Kenya, UNESCO inscribed the Mediterranean Diet on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity after the joint request put forth by Greece, Spain, Italy and Morocco. Furthermore, UNESCO selected the community of Koroni as the Greek emblematic community because its way of life is representative of the Mediterranean triad of diet, culture and history.

The Mediterranean Diet denotes the dietary and food patterns of the countries that are surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea with special reference to Crete, Messinia and Southern Italy. Large epidemiological studies of the Mediterranean regions, however, have shown that there are a number of differences in both the diet, and its cultural and traditional practices.

On the other hand, the different dietary patterns, which prevail in the Mediterranean countries, have also common elements, such as olive oil, which is the core of this diet. Specifically, the Mediterranean Diet is characterized as a nutritional model, which has remained constant both in space and time. It mainly consists of olive oil, cereals, fresh or dried fruit and vegetables, a moderate amount of fish, dairy products and meat and, a variety of condiments and spices, accompanied by wine or teas. When accompanied by physical activity, the Mediterranean Diet is one of the most beneficial diets for human health. Its low content in animal fat is due to the fact that Mediterranean people have had the ability to adapt their diet according to the weather, the geography and the agricultural potential of the area.

The Mediterranean Diet is mainly based on the dietary habits of the inhabitants of Crete and Southern Italy, who predominantly consume olive oil, wine and dairy products. Physical activity is an integral part of this dietary model: it is worth mentioning that during the time of the Seven Countries Study, because of their rural lifestyle, the Cretans would walk on average thirteen kilometers a day.

The Greek version of the Mediterranean Diet is characterized by a high ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fatty acids, moderate consumption of alcohol, high consumption of legumes and cereals, including bread, high consumption of fruit and vegetables, low consumption of meat and meat products and moderate consumption of milk and dairy products. It is worth noting that the Greek Mediterranean Diet could be seen as the standard Mediterranean Diet as Greece is the country, which has the highest per capita consumption of olive oil, bread, fruit and vegetables, i.e. the typical products of the Mediterranean Diet. An additional but also particular to the Greek cultural element of the Greek Mediterranean Diet is the religious practice of fasting, during which the Greek Orthodox Christians abstain from the consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products for approximately 180 days per year.

Unfortunately today there is a very large majority of people in the Mediterranean countries, who, to a large extent, do not follow the dietary model of the Mediterranean Diet. This is quite noticeable with young and middle-aged adults. For this reason it is necessary to develop policies that will help preserve this beneficial way of eating with the contribution of developments in various scientific fields as well as in the production and processing of food technology.
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