Mediterranean diet: We’re finally working out why this diet is so good for us

WHEN it comes to healthier diets, one of them has always had a have-your-cake-and-eat-it feel. For decades, we have been told that the secret to staying well is to indulge in the delicious fresh foods of the Mediterranean. Adding more tomatoes, focaccia and olive oil to your dinner plate – and washing it down with a glass of chianti – is claimed to be a great way to reduce your odds of having a heart attack or developing type 2 diabetes.

Most surprising of all, this isn’t just overhyped nonsense. Evidence has been mounting for over 50 years that the Mediterranean diet really can improve your health in many ways. “We have long-term, large clinical trials with hard clinical events as the outcomes,” says Miguel Martínez-González at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain.

And not many diets get a UNESCO listing. A decade ago, this United Nations body added the Mediterranean diet to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

But despite all this praise, figuring out what it is about the diet that leads to such benefits has been tricky. For starters, nutritionists can’t agree on the exact form it should take. And then there are factors like eating as a family, cooking at home and other non-dietary elements that must be considered. The good news is that, over the past decade, we have begun to learn which components of the diet offer the biggest health benefits and why. This means we are closer than ever to offering the best advice…

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