What would you think if we told you that the Mediterranean diet
was studied and categorized by a researcher from... the USA? Well, it’s true. In the early 1950s
, the American biologist and physiologist Ancel Keys
carefully examined the dietary habits of the people of the Mediterranean basin, comparing them with those of other countries.
The famous Seven Countries Study
, led by Keys, observed the dietary habits and lifestyles of people in seven countries (USA, Finland, Holland, Italy, Greece, Japan and the former Yugoslavia), with the aim of understanding their effects on the wellbeing of the population, including a particular focus on the incidence of cardiovascular illnesses.
The study lasted for decades, enabling the researchers to compare the various diets in great detail. They concluded that:
- in the Northern European countries, the most popular foods were milk, potatoes, animal fats and sweet foodstuffs;
- the United States showed high levels of consumption of meat, fruit and sweet foodstuffs;
- Italy showed high levels of consumption of grains (particularly in the form of bread and pasta) and wine;
- in the former Yugoslavia, the most popular foods were bread, vegetables and fish;
- Greece had high levels of consumption of olive oil and fruit;
- in Japan, people ate mainly fish, rice and soy products.
Keys’ research made it possible to show that a diet based on the consumption of grains, vegetables, fruit, fish and olive oil was by far and away a preferable alternative to the typical diets of America and Northern Europe, which tended to be high in fats, animal protein and sugars.
Today, the Mediterranean diet has been included as part of UNESCO's Intangible Heritage of Humanity
and its principles have been summarized in a Food Pyramid
which sets out the amount and frequency whereby foods should be consumed during the day.