Benefits of the Messinian Diet
The Messinian Diet covers the nutritional needs of the general population as it is based on the consumption of a variety of foods on a regular basis. At the same time, it acts as a nutritional model, which offers protection against the occurrence of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, certain types of cancer and diabetes. It is worth saying that the beneficial effects of the Messinian Diet come from it as a whole and not from individual food and nutrients, as the combination of the various foods and the biological interactions of the different substances impart significant health benefits.
Food groups like cereals, fruit, vegetables, olive oil, dairy products and wine dominate the Messinian Diet. Cereals, such as pligouri (oatmeal), rusks from Mani, hilopites and triftaria (types of pasta), are high in carbohydrates which are a necessary energy source for the human body. Whole grain cereals, like pligouri, are especially rich in fiber and reduce the risk of heart diseases, strokes and colon cancer.
Fruit and vegetables such as Black Corinth raisins (Zante Currants), figs, oranges, tomatoes, eggplants and artichokes are rich in antioxidant vitamins (vitamins C and E, and β-carotene), fiber and phenolic compounds. Typical herbs and aromatic plants of the Messinian Diet, such as oregano and balm are also rich in phenolic compounds. Furthermore, most vegetables, like peppers, the Tsakonian eggplants and green beans, have high amounts of folic acid, which in combination with vitamins B6 and B12 can reduceblood homocysteine levels, minimizing the risk of coronary heart disease and blood clots.
Kalamata olive oil helps prevent cardiovascular diseases because it contains antioxidants such as tocopherols, carotenoids and phenolic compounds. Olive oil also has monounsaturated fatty acids,which increase HDL and reduce LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Additionally, monounsaturated fatty acids protect against the risk of thrombosis. Finally, it has been demonstrated that olive oil reduces the risk of breast, prostate and colon cancer.
The consumption of fish such as sardines, cod, and anchovies, has been associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease and reduces the incidence of thrombosis and triglycerides in the blood through the effect of omega-3 fatty acids found mainly in sardines and cod. The levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish are another significant health factor as they help reduce blood cholesterol and the risk of atherosclerosis. Finally, fish, because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, can lower blood pressure and heart arrhythmias.
Of the dairy products of the Messinian Diet, notably cheeses, such as sfela, Peloponnesian feta and talagani, are rich in high biological value protein, calcium and saturated fatty acids. The last are related to an increased risk of atherosclerosis. However, recent findings on the saturated fatty acids of dairy products and their health effects tend not to be as incriminating and hence further research is required.
Messinian wine, ouzo and raki are typical alcohol beverages of the Messinian Diet. In recent years, several epidemiological studies have shown that the daily consumption of 15 – 25 ml of alcohol contributes to decreased risk levels of coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction (heart attack) and their associated mortality rates. The moderate consumption of wine can also help reduce the risk of strokes as well as lung and upper digestive tract cancers. A recent study noted the beneficial effects of red wine on the heart, while another study showed that in patients suffering from hypertension, low to moderate alcohol consumption could reduce mortality rates due to heart failure.
Finally, it should be noted that adult dietary recommendations of the Messinian Food Pyramid are largely in accordance to the traditional Messinian diet. A noteworthy exception is that, while in a traditional Messinian diet people ate meat four times a year and fish once a week. Τhe consumption rates of these foods are unattainable today and are in contrast to the recommendations of the American Heart Association guidelines of eating fish at least two times a week.