“Italy offers a wonderful setting of climate and soil to produce many of the healthful foods in the traditional Mediterranean diet,” Katherine McManus, Director of the Department of Nutrition-Bringham Hospital (Boston) explained at the Italian Trade Commission’s seminar presented in conjunction with the Summer Fancy Foo
d Show, “with over 36.600 producers, the country holds first place in Europe and third place worldwide for the number of organic farms that do not use chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or growth hormones. The question is simple – organic foods are better for you and your health.”
Just to clarify - the Mediterranean Diet describes a delicious way of eating and drinking that for decades now scientists have consistently supported in the name of good health. For this reason the Mediterranean Diet is regularly described as the "gold standard for healthy eating." Traditional Mediterranean meals are based on plentiful fruits, vegetables, and beans; an abundance of bread, pasta, rice, couscous, and other grain foods, especially whole grains; nuts; olive oil; fish, poultry and lean red meat; cheese and yogurt; and moderate amounts of red wine. These are the foods and drinks traditionally consumed by people living in the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Something that needs to be understood is that there's not one "Mediterranean" diet; at least 16 countries border the Mediterranean Sea. Diets vary between these countries and also between regions within a country. Many differences in culture, ethnic background, religion, economy and agricultural production result in different diets. But the common Mediterranean dietary pattern has the above mentioned characteristics.
But are Southern Italian and northern Italian diets different from one another? Italy's Alpine and northern regions produce more livestock (cows), and use more butter and lard and less olive oil. In the past, corn and rice were more popular in these regions than pasta. In the inland cities, like Milan and Turin, fish was more expensive, and not that fresh, than it was in coastal cities and therefore consumed in lesser quantities. Now things are different and every product can be found anywhere and everywhere.
“The traditional Mediterranean diet,” McManus adds, “is based on food patterns typical in Southern Italy in the 1960’s, that includes an abundance of plant foods, minimally processed, seasonally fresh, and locally grown.” The traditional Mediterranean diet has a wide range of total fat – 28% to greater that 40% of total energy. It is low in saturated fat, <8% of energy, with no sources of trans fatty acids. Trans fats increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol. The incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries is lower than in the United States and the American Heart Association definitely recommends this regimen.
Most importantly, this type of diet tastes great. It would be more difficult to follow it if dishes were unflavored or bland. How can you say no to a tasty plate of spaghetti in a light tomato sauce, topped with fresh basil leaves drizzled in olive oil?