In a world brimming with dietary trends – from Atkins to keto, palaeo to gluten-free – the choices seem endless. The saying ‘you are what you eat,’ originally coined by 19th-century German philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, has become a guiding principle for good health. As science delves deeper into the connections between diet and overall well-being, it’s clear that the concept of ‘diet’ extends far beyond mere food choices.
While various fad diets promise rapid weight loss and improved health, the scientific foundation supporting many of them remains incomplete. Over time, ongoing research explores the intricate links between diet, general health, weight management, and medical treatments.
Amid the plethora of dietary options, the Mediterranean diet emerges as a beacon of health, nutrition, and diet science. Endorsed by global health authorities, including the American Heart Association and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, this lifestyle emphasizes fruit and vegetable consumption, wholegrain products, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fish, with olive oil as a primary fat source.
Yet, diet, in its truest sense, transcends the mere act of eating. Dr. Evangeline Mantzioris, Program Director of the Nutrition and Food Sciences Degree at the University of South Australia, underscores the broader interpretation of the term. The word ‘diet’ originates from the Greek word ‘diaita,’ meaning the way one chooses to live their life. Mantzioris emphasizes that it encompasses not only food and drink but also exercise, social interaction, and rest, including sleep.
The 2019 Health Evidence Network Synthesis Report by the World Health Organization supports this holistic approach, acknowledging the social and sleep components of lifestyle. Shared eating practices, post-meal siestas, and leisurely meal times are recognized as contributors to positive health effects.
In terms of nutrition, Mantzioris stresses that adhering to the Mediterranean diet involves more than just increasing olive oil intake. It requires a reduction in less beneficial foods and an active lifestyle. The diet’s historical context is essential to understand its full impact. In the 1960s, those benefitting from the Mediterranean diet were actively involved in harvesting, growing, and preparing their food, engaging in purposeful exercise in challenging outdoor environments.
Beyond its cardiovascular benefits, the Mediterranean diet has demonstrated positive outcomes for cognitive and mental health. Mantzioris urges a comprehensive perspective, cautioning against isolating diet from other lifestyle factors.