The Mediterranean Diet was “discovered” by an American researcher called Ancel Keys in the 1950’s. His research project was far from ideal and would not withstand a modern peer review, but one of his findings was inescapable. Men living in Japan and in Mediterranean countries were living longer and suffering from less heart disease. It was assumed that this finding applied to women too but he didn’t include women in the study!
Ancel Keys postulated that this was a dietary effect and the Mediterranean Diet was born!
Since then, many more rigorous studies have been carried out to try and explore the effect more deeply. One study in Spain used volunteers who had already had a heart attack and were therefore at high risk of having a second one. The volunteers were split into two groups: one on a “Mediterranean” Diet and the second on an “American” Diet. The study was designed to last five years, however after two years it had to be stopped on ethical grounds, because the volunteers on the American diet were dying so quickly!
More recently a huge study was launched called “Predimed”. This survey was well designed and had a broadly defined diet as a baseline, without putting volunteers at risk by subjecting them to excessive processed foods and fast foods. In addition, one group was given extra nuts; one group was given a couple of extra tablespoons of genuine extra virgin olive oil each day; and another group was given both. This study has fairly conclusively proved that genuine extra virgin olive oil does in fact prolong life expectancy and reduce the risk of heart disease, as well as other diseases such as diabetes.
Organisations such as Nutrition Australia have taken Predimed into account when designing their “healthy eating pyramid”. This must be amusing for the Spanish and Italian people because they have known this for thousands of years!
1. (Ancel Keys)
2. (Spanish study)
4. Nutrition Australia