Preventive Nutrition The Mediterranean Diet

Nutrition in accordance with the official guidelines could be considered as preventive, in spite of recent discussions about antioxidant vitamins, for instance. Nutrient data derived from scientific research provide an important foundation for institutional nutrition plans (e.g., hospitals, nursing homes); however, they are too abstract for the general consumer, who needs easy-to-apply nutritional recommendations. Translated into practical recommendations and compared to present intakes, a preventive nutrition should increase the consumption of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, enhance the use of plant over animal fats, and reduce the intake of fried and refined foods, especially simple sugars. The popularity of outsider diets teaches that recommendations are more successful and attractive if combined with a "lifestyle" image, as may be provided, for instance, by the "Mediterranean Diet" (A).

Mediterranean food consumption patterns with their high proportion of various vegetables, grains, plant oils (olive oil, in particular), fish, small amounts of animal fats and meat, largely coincide with present-day ideas about a preventive diet. As early as in the 1950s, the "Seven Countries Study" found that, compared to Northern Europe and the U.S., Mediterranean countries had very low levels of heart disease.

Persons whose data were collected in the 1950s and 1960s are still followed within the framework of this study. They show that in the Mediterranean, too, the amounts of saturated fatty acids consumed increase with increasing wealth, lessening the preventive properties of the diet. In principle, the traditional Mediterranean is largely transferable to Western industrialized nations, since a great variety of foods is available. The high level intake of monounsaturated (olive oil) and n-3-fatty acids (fish) can be achieved in part by consuming rapeseed (canola) oil, which contains both components.

The National "5 A Day for Better Health" program is the National Cancer Institute's attempt to convince people to adopt a healthier nutrition. It propagates the simple principle of eating fruit or vegetables five times a day. Since these are recommended to be eaten "in addition," restrictions—which people tend to dislike or reject—are not necessary. Also, the principle is easy to remember; and since fruit and vegetables are rich in water, the resulting satiety automatically leads to lower intakes of other foods. Alternatively (max. twice/day), fruit or vegetables juices may be taken instead. Whether the "5 A Day" campaign will achieve the desired reduction in nutrition-related diseases remains to be seen within the coming years and decades.

I- A. The Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean Diet Guide
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