The Mediterranean Diet from Ancel Keys to the Present

Strangely enough, the Mediterranean Diet was discovered by an American named Ancel Keys, who in 1951 became particularly interested in healthy way of eating that he’d discovered in Italy.

Keys was a physiologist born in Colorado in 1904, and he came to Italy to discover something that in the Mediterranean had long been well known, namely that the ‘triad’ -based Mediterranean diet is particularly healthy. The ‘triad’ refers to the way of eating in the Mediterranean based on wheat, olive oil and wine; three ingredients linked to three deities: Demeter for Grain, Athena for olive oil and Dionysus for wine.

This ‘triad’ represents the dietary cornerstone in the Mediterranean and has for thousands of years. It stood in contrast to another way of eating, the ‘barbaric’ diet which refers to the peoples of northern Europe whom the Romans called barbarians. The barbaric diet had its own triad: meat, butter and milk; quite antithetical to that of the Mediterranean.

Today, international organizations tell us that the Mediterranean lifestyle and way of eating is exceptionally beneficial to our overall well being. According to the World Health Organization, it leads to health and longevity; according to the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture) the Mediterranean Diet represents a very environmental friendly approach to food production, yielding minimal waste and using little environmental resources. Keys, who was put on the cover of Time magazine in 1961, can be thanked for the fact that today, many living outside the Mediterranean region now attempt to practice the Mediterranean diet or incorporate aspects of it into their own lives.

Mediterranean populations have always eaten and lived in this way, but it was Keys who dedicated himself to studying and then publicly endorsing this way of eating as exceptionally healthy. It was he who gave this balanced and ecologically sound way of eating the name ‘Mediterranean Diet’, and although the Mediterranean peoples had always lived in this way, evidently it took an American scholar to garner international attention and respect