Add years to your life with a Mediterranean diet 

The Mediterranean diet: the healthiest diet in the world. That’s the bold statement splashed across the cover of the latest book by Dr Simon Poole. A medical doctor, he works at a family medical practice in Cambridge and is a firm believer in the evidence-based results of the diet. Poole had noticed a marked increase in the kind of chronic illnesses that could be prevented through dietary means and as a result wrote The Real Mediterranean Diet as a practical guide to communicate this nutritional information.

The term Mediterranean diet came into being during the 1950s and 1960s when international researchers first noted that people living in some parts of Greece and Italy had a much lower incidence of common illnesses. Their diet was focused on unprocessed, seasonal and locally produced food like whole grains, vegetables, beans, nuts, cheese, herbs and spices alongside what Poole calls “the ubiquitous extra virgin olive oil”. Processed foods and red meat were eaten less commonly and in smaller amounts, while fresh fruit was consumed at the end of meals. Enjoying meals with others also played a part.

This wasn’t a new diet but rather one that dated back thousands of years, originating in the olive-growing of the Mediterranean and making regions full use of what could be grown and produced locally. Nutritionally, it ticks all the boxes, with a plentiful supply of low GI carbs, great fats, good quality proteins — much of it bean and plant-based — alongside lots of vitamins and minerals and polyphenols, the naturally occurring micronutrients crucial for health. It’s good for gut health and the microbiome.

Science behind the diet

Dr Simon Poole

Poole has been working to communicate the facts about the Mediterranean diet in his practice but there’s only so much information that you can impart in a consultation. “I started off by first talking to patients about it,” Poole says, “then I was out in the community a bit more, cutting my teeth at Women’s Institute evenings and Rotary Clubs and libraries, sharing my passion for the diet and the fact that the community that takes it up has measurably better blood pressure, cholesterol and protection from chronic diseases.”

He found that people were familiar with the idea of ​​the Mediterranean diet, but not with the science or the principles behind it. The Real Mediterranean Diet seeks to fill this gap. Clearly written, with simple summaries at the end of each chapter and a selection of recipes from guest chefs, it’s by way of a dummies’ guide, explaining how this mainly benefits plant-based diet works, the food – and food combinations – that go towards making the Mediterranean diet deliver. “It’s all about the fundamental ingredients, the reasons that they are there and how they go together,” says Poole.

A non-negotiable central ingredient is extra virgin olive oil: “EVOO is the fundamental key to the Mediterranean diet. It is ubiquitous – they don’t use any other fat for cooking. The diet is so powerful because of EVOO. No other oils contain the same levels of antioxidants and no other ingredient in any other diet in the world has such a singular place in the diet.”

Poole, who co-wrote The Olive Oil Diet with Judy Ridgway in 2016, is an EVOO evangelist, but this belief is backed up by science. A study released last month by researchers from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health found that subjects consuming olive oil — just 7g a day — had less risk of dying prematurely from neurodegenerative disease, cancer and cardiovascular disease than those who did not include olive oil in their diets.

A study published in PLOSMedicine Last week suggested a young adult could add 10 years to their lifespan by pivoting from a typical Western diet to a traditional Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet also includes a moderate amount of dark chocolate, wine and coffee. “It’s about the pleasure that you can get from food,” says Poole. “The Mediterranean diet is so delicious that it’s a great diet to advocate. Enjoying healthy food makes a diet much more sustainable.”

When asked what three simple changes people can make in their diets he’s unequivocal: “Start by learning to really enjoy extra virgin olive oil and making it part of your everyday diet. Another common theme is the presence of varied, colourful, different tasting vegetables. After that, it’s impossible to rank different ingredients so the best advice is to enjoy!”

The Real Mediterranean Diet: A practical guide to understanding and achieving the healthiest diet in the world by Dr Simon Poole is published by Cambridge Academic.

Five sources of good quality extra virgin olive oil in Ireland

  • CrowdFarming, a virtual method of buying direct from farmers, mainly in Europe, offers a variety of olive oils and olives (alongside chickpeas, nuts and fruit) making it a one-stop shop for Mediterranean diet aficionados. crowdfarming.com
  • The Dublin-based Taste With Gusto sells its Coratina olive oil from a shop in Georges’ Street Arcade, at markets in the Dublin region and also online. Available in bottles or 5ltr cans. laspesaitaliana.ie
  • Lino Olivieri imports olive oil from his family homeplace in Puglia, cold-pressed from a variety of olive called Ogliarola Garganica. Available at Dublin markets and online. olivierisfineitalianfoods.com
  • After working in Barcelona, ​​chef Sarah Merrigan set up Sarah & Olive to bring single-estate olive oil from Andalucia to Ireland. Stockists and online ordering at sarahandolive.com
  • Toons Bridge Dairy / The Real Olive Company stocks a variety of olive oils from Portugal, Italy, Spain and Greece. It has shops in Dublin and Cork’s English Market, a presence at markets around Ireland and an online shop. toonsbridgedairy.com

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