Harvard Men's Health Watch

The Mediterranean diet: A model for Americans

No matter where they live on our vast and wonderful planet, people are people. But if all humans share a common biologic backbone, the peoples of the earth display a remarkable diversity of cultural norms. Language, religion, family structure, governance, music, dance, sports, and clothing are all subject to amazing cultural differences. And the human diet is every bit as diverse as the other cultural traditions.

All people eat to live, but the foods they choose depend on complex interactions between climate, geography, national resources, religion, and tradition. Each culture has its signature dishes; for example, Asians are noted for rice, noodles, and soy, Italians for pasta and bread, Germans for meat and potatoes, the French for wine and cheese, Latinos for corn, beans, and rice, and (alas!) Americans for hamburgers and fries. As migration, travel, and the global economy shrink our world, dietary diversity has diminished. But before variety becomes the exception, Americans should consider adopting the best nutritional traditions from other cultures, not just for the occasional pleasure of ethnic dining, but as a healthful pattern for everyday life. And one of the best "" and most easily attained "" patterns is the traditional Mediterranean diet.

When in Greece"¦?

When doctors prescribe the Mediterranean diet, they are advising the traditional diet present in Crete and certain other rural areas in southern Greece, Italy, or France. But with globalization, the traditional dietary pattern is eroding. In the Mediterranean, as in much of the world, the Western preference for processed foods that are high in fat, salt, sugar, and calories, but low in fiber, is taking hold. Olive oil and wine are still in vogue, but exercise is not.

Since the 1970s, the Greek waistline has expanded drastically; the prevalence of obesity is now as high or higher than in any area of the world except certain Pacific islands. Diabetes is also rampant, and an epidemic of heart disease may be just a heartbeat away.

When in Greece, do as the Greeks used to do.

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