The Mediterranean diet originates in the food cultures of ancient civilizations which developed around the Mediterranean Basin and is based on the regular consumption of olive oil (as the main source of added fat), plant foods (cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, tree nuts, and seeds), the moderate consumption of fish, seafood, and dairy, and low-to-moderate alcohol (mostly red wine) intake, balanced by a comparatively limited use of red meat and other meat products. A few decades ago, the Mediterranean diet drew the attention of medical professionals by proving extended health benefits. The first reports ascertained cardiovascular protection, as multiple large-scale clinical studies, starting with Ancel Keys' Seven Countries Study, showed a marked reduction of atherosclerotic clinical events in populations with a Mediterranean dietary pattern. Ensuing trials confirmed favorable influences on the risk for metabolic syndrome, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. While its health benefits are universally recognized today by medical professionals, the present state of the Mediterranean diet is challenged by major difficulties in implementing this protective dietary pattern in other geographical and cultural areas and keeping it alive in traditional Mediterranean territories, also tainted by the unhealthy eating habits brought by worldwide acculturation.
Keywords: Mediterranean diet; chronic diseases; dietary pattern; healthy lifestyle; human studies; public health nutrition; sustainability.