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We have been in love with the colours, flavours and health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet for centuries – so much so that we now dedicate a whole month to celebrating it.
Created in 2009, National Mediterranean Diet Month highlights the health benefits of this particular way of eating.
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How can I celebrate National Mediterranean Diet Month?
Whether it is just including a quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil in your diet or making big changes to your nutritional habits, there are many ways you can celebrate national Mediterranean Diet Month. Here are three suggestions from National Today:
- Explore new cuisines
Buy Mediterranean Diet cookbooks or skim Google recipes — and attempt to make dishes filled with foods you’ve never tried.
- Start a 30-day challenge
Want to break bad eating habits and build healthier ones? Challenge yourself to try one new food, condiment, or spice every week. You can even get family and friends in on the action.
- Throw a Mediterranean-inspired dinner party
You can impress your guests by offering a variety of olives, cheeses, and extra virgin olive oils (for dipping bread), as well as preparing flavorful salads, fish and chicken. Plus, have fun decorating your space with Mediterranean-themed décor — think colors of the land and sea. Also, try rustic clay plates, mosaic-patterned tiles, and Moroccan-inspired fabrics.
What Are The Key Components Of A Mediterranean Diet?
While there are some regional variations, The Mediterranean Diet is generally defined as being high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish and unsaturated fats such as extra virgin olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.
Although some of the top chefs around the world have incorporated flavours of The Mediterranean in their cuisine, it is possible to make your diet more Mediterranean by making some very simple changes, including;
- Eating plenty of starchy foods, such as bread and pasta
- Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables
- Including fish in your diet
- Eating less meat
- Choosing products made from vegetable and plant oils, such as extra virgin olive oil.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil And The Mediterranean Diet
Extra virgin olive oil is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet. A healthy diet that is associated with sensible tasty portions and slower, more enjoyable eating. People who eat a Mediterranean diet have been shown to have a remarkable variety of health benefits. The extra virgin olive oil in the Mediterranean diet can quickly satisfy hunger. It can lead to fewer total calories ingested at mealtime.
Extra virgin olive oil is one of the few oils that can be eaten without chemical processing. For instance, nearly every other vegetable oil has been detoxified and refined with steam and solvents. Fresh pressed extra virgin olive oil can be eaten immediately. It retains the natural flavours, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other healthy products of the ripe olive fruit.
In 1958 Ancel Keys, a physiologist from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health observed that incidents of coronary heart disease were more common in middle-aged Americans. More than their European counterparts living in Mediterranean countries. He postulated that a correlation existed between people’s risk for heart disease and their eating habits and lifestyle. This observation led Keys to launch his seminal study. Participants from seven countries around the world – the United States, Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia, the Netherlands, Japan and Finland. After that, the hypothesis was tested.
Consequent research showed a large discrepancy in the incidence and mortality of heart disease among the monitored populations. Participants from Italy and Greece, who had similar eating habits, had the lowest heart disease rates among other participants. The same was true for their Japanese counterparts, whose diet was also plant-based, but lacked the unsaturated fat that Mediterranean populations were receiving mainly from olive oil.
Participants from Finland and the United States, on the other hand, had the highest rates of heart disease due to their high intake of saturated animal fat, the research concluded. The Seven Countries Study demonstrated that low rates of heart disease can occur both with a low and a high intake of fat, depending on its nature and the dietary habits of the participants.
The revelation led to the formal definition of the Mediterranean diet in 1980. First published by Harvard University.
Harvard Medical School Food Pyramid
The Harvard Pyramid is based on the Mediterranean diet. Its structure came from the diets of the inhabitants of Crete and Southern Italy in the 1960’s. Presented in 1993 by Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health at the International Conference on the Mediterranean Diet held in Cambridge Massachusetts. Note that olive oil is one of the basic components. This pyramid has enjoyed decades of increasing acceptance.
According to the Harvard Medical School Food Pyramid, the total amount of fat you eat, whether high or low, is not really linked with disease. Similarly, what really matters is the type of fat you eat. In other words, the “bad” fats, saturated and trans fats, increase the risk for certain diseases. Similarly, the “good” fats, mono-unsaturated, and poly-unsaturated fats like those contained in extra virgin olive oil lower disease risk. In conclusion, the key to a healthy diet is to substitute good fats for bad fats and to avoid trans fats.
Markos Klonizakis, a clinical physiologist at Sheffield Hallam University, in England, said one of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet is that there are many variations, making it adaptable across cultures. In addition, Klonizakis argues that the eating preferences of people can be shaped by many factors and the current pandemic may be one of them.
“Unhealthy food is easier to prepare. Maybe the coronavirus pandemic is a chance for us to start eating better,” he said. “Of course, eating patterns are also a matter of trend, for example, the vegan regime has many adherents even though its benefits are not widely established, but nutritional tradition usually endures through time.”
Brynn McDowell, an American dietician, and blogger agree that the Mediterranean diet is likely to continue growing in popularity in the U.S. She said the flexibility of the diet plays a big part in making it an easy eating plan to follow. “Therefore, there aren’t any strict rules. Instead, it’s based on a set of guidelines. Including more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, and of course extra virgin olive oil. Emphasis is placed on what you should add to your diet for health. While some foods, such as red meat and sugary desserts and pastries, are recommended to be enjoyed in moderation, they aren’t forbidden. This makes the Mediterranean diet easily customizable to your lifestyle.”
McDowell sees this flexibility as a way to prevent consumers from getting frustrated by the limitations of the diet. A key reason why people find more strict diets harder to follow.
Lastly, in 2013, the Mediterranean Diet was named as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity for both its health benefits and its cultural importance to the Mediterranean region.