If you were asked to say which countries have the healthiest diets you might well talk about the Mediterranean region. The diet typical of the region has long been associated with a lesser chance of illness and increased well-being. A new scientific study has also linked it to mental and physical health too.
This is good news for the thousands of expats who call Mediterranean countries like Greece, Spain and Italy home. The diet, characterized by the consumption of fresh fruit, vegetables, pulses, olive oil, fish and nuts has proven to lessen the risk of chronic illness and lower mortality rates.
The study, headed by the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the University of Navarra, analysed the influence of the Mediterranean diet on the quality of life of a sample of more than 11,000 university students over a period of four years.
Dietary intake data was taken at the beginning of the study and self-perceived quality of life was measured after the four year monitoring period. In order to ascertain whether the Mediterranean diet was followed, consumption of vegetables, pulses, fruit, nuts, cereals and fish was positively valued whereas consumption of meat, dairy products and alcohol was negatively valued.
The results reveal that those who stick more to the Mediterranean diet score higher on the quality of life questionnaire in terms of physical and mental well-being. This link is even stronger in terms of physical quality of life.
Mediterranean food pyramid
Patricia Henríquez Sánchez, lead author of the study, states, “The Mediterranean diet is an important factor associated with better quality of life and can be considered as a healthy food model.” Its food pyramid combines food to be eaten daily, weekly and occasionally.
Main meals should never lack three basic elements: cereals, fruit and vegetables and dairy products. Furthermore, you must include a daily intake of 1.5 and 2 litres of water. Olive oil constitutes the main source of fat for its nutritional quality and moderate consumption of wine and other fermented beverages is recommended.
Furthermore, fish, lean meat and eggs are sources of high quality animal protein. Fish and seafood are also sources of healthy fats. At the top of the pyramid are sugar, sweets, cakes, pastries and sweetened beverages that should be consumed occasionally and in small amounts.