The Mediterranean Diet is the Diet of Southern Italy The Mediterranean Diet of Southern Italy

The Mediterranean Diet of Southern Italy

The closest one can come in terms of a precise definition of the Mediterranean Diet, is to assume that it resembles the diet eaten in Southern Italy in the early '60s, as described by the Euratom Study.

Highlights of the Mediterranean Diet of Southern Italy:

  • No one should overlook the impact of the Mediterranean Sea, and obviously its fish, on the Mediterranean Diet.
  • Wine is part of the Mediterranean Diet
  • The Mediterranean Diet is the diet of Southern Italy in the early '60s.
  • The Mediterranean Diet is definitely light on potatoes.
  • To eat a Mediterranean Diet, eat a lot less meat, eggs, milk, cheese, and sweets.
  • Mediterranean people ate 40% more fruit and 80% more grains than the Northern Europeans did.
  • One striking characteristic of the Mediterranean Diet is its heavy use of olive oil as the primary source of fat, and their minimal use of both Butter and Margarine.
  • Another striking characteristic of the Southern Italian Diet is its heavy reliance on Whole Grains.

The Mediterranean Diet should be of interest to anyone concerned about their health because it was a Real Diet that was found to be health-promoting in the 1960s. It is also quite a palatable and satisfying diet to eat.

Mediterranean Diet of Southern Italy

The Mediterranean Diet has gained in recent years an enormous popularity. While the Mediterranean Diet has been faddish ever since the Renaissance, its popularity was recently revived by Ancel Keys who published a cookbook on it in 1975, and conducted a Seven Countries Study in 1968 that showed that the Mediterranean people had the longest lifespan in the world during the early '60s. The Mediterranean Diet has since been reported to be particularly beneficial in the prevention of both cardio-vascular diseases and cancer. In any attempt to reach a working definition of the Mediterranean Diet no one can overlook the impact of the Mediterranean Sea, and obviously its fish, on the diet of this geographical region of the world.

A major source of food consumption data on the Mediterranean Diet can be taken from the Food Balance Sheets generated nationally by individual European countries, that was later collated, prepared and published by FAO. The years 1961-1963 were selected for analysis in 16 Mediterranean countries. The Euratom Study is also a major source of information on the dietary habits of 7 European countries that was published in 1969. I shall use these two sources of information to construct a working definition of the Mediterranean Diet

The closest one can come in terms of a precise definition of the Mediterranean Diet, is to assume that it resembles the diet eaten in Southern Italy in the early '60s, as described by the Euratom Study.

Differences between the dietary profiles of Northern European and these Mediterranean countries in 1961-1963 clearly points out what should NOT be excessively consumed in your diet. Northern Europeans ate 120% more meat, 100% more eggs, 80% more milk and cheese, 60% more fat, 40% more sweeteners, and drank 100% more alcoholic beverages. Thus by cutting back on these items in your diet, you can clearly eat a more Mediterranean like diet.

Interestingly enough, Northern Europeans ate about 10% more vegetables. Furthermore, most of the vegetables eaten in North and Central Europe were in the form of potatoes. The Mediterranean Diet is definitely light on potatoes. The Southern Italian Diet averaged only a half gram of fiber a day from potatoes. This represents only 5% of their daily fiber intake from vegetables.

These Mediterranean people ate 40% more fruit and 80% more grains than the Northern Europeans did.

One striking characteristic of the Mediterranean Diet is its heavy use of olive oil as the primary source of fat, and their minimal use of both Butter and Margarine. Italian foods are often described by foreign visitors as being greasy and swimming in oil. This appearance is due to the fact that only a small portion of the fat content of a meal comes from animal or saturated fat. Margarine use was unknown in the Italian Diet. The use of olive oil tends to result in meals where fat fluids remain separated from the structure of the cooked food, thereby, giving the appearance of foods that are more greasy than they really are.

Mediterranean Diet

Another striking characteristic of the Southern Italian Diet was its heavy reliance on Grains to the tune of 60% of the caloric content (51% when including alcohol). Southern Italians ate approximately 490 grams (17 ounces) of pasta and bread a day. Hence, eating a lot of Grains was clearly NOT overwhelmingly harmful to the Italians.

In Southern Italy 60% of their fiber intake came from Grains. The next largest proportion of their fiber came from tomatoes, onions, artichokes, pulses, eggplants, and fruits. Pulses are an edible ripe seed of a plant belonging to the bean family. They grow in cases called pods. Peas, lentils and chickpeas are examples of pulses.

The following tables are for Southern Italy. The data comes from the Euratom Study.

Macro-nutrients Grams / Day Percent by Calories Total Calories
Carbohydrates

354

59.8%

1416

Fat

73

27.7%

657

Protein

74

12.5%

296

Totals

601

100%

2,369

Olive Oil Total Fats & Oils
Weight in Grams/day

49

73

Weight in Ounces/day

1.7

2.6

Monounsaturated / Saturated Fat Ratio

3.87

2.29

Polyunsaturated / Saturated Fat Ratio

0.53

0.41

Food Groups Grams / day Percent by Weight Percent by Calories
Grains

486

43.0%

58%

Fruits & Vegetables

426

37.8%

9%

Meat & Fish

62

05.5%

5%

Milk & Diary

87

07.7%

4%

Fat & Oils

51

04.5%

18%

Sugar & Sweets

16

01.4%

2%

Totals

1,128

99.9%

96%

Food Weight  

Breakdown of Fruits & Vegetables

Grams / day Ounces / day Percent by Weight Fiber Weight

Grams / day
Grains (mostly wheat)

486

17

53.3%

14.7

Fruit Vegetables (tomatoes, eggplants, cauliflower, peas, & beans)

200

7

21.9%

2.7

Fruits

120

4.2

13.2%

3.9

Leafy Vegetables (green salads, spinach, and other products usually consumed raw)

100

3.5

11.0%

2.4

Roots & Tubers

1

.035

0.1%

0.2

Potatoes

5

.175

0.5%

0.5

Totals

912

31.9

100%

24.4


In Conclusion: Rather than 60%, a maximum of 40% grains is recommend by the Natural Health Perspective. You should be eating equal amounts of whole grains and vegetables. Further conclusions on the Southern Italian Diet are summarized in this sites Advanced Healthy Diet Guidelines.

Return to Eating Healthy Whole Foods


The Mediterranean Diet of Southern Italy Comments:

References:

  1. Ferro-Luzzi, A, Sette, S. The Mediterranean Diet: An Attempt to Define its Present and Past Composition, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1989) 43, (Suppl. 2), 13-29.



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