Mediterranean diet: Functional foods and physical activity, benefits for human health

Anita Ferraretto, Silvia Perego, Amelia Fiorilli

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The Mediterranean diet is a well recognized life and food habits having relevantassociation with a reduced mortality caused by diseases such as cardiovascular disease,obesity, diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. The importance of a healthybalanced diet lies on the fact that benefits come from the presence and the interaction ofalmost all the nutrients with which it is composed. It is a matter of fact that singlenutrients can behave differently from what it is observed when they are all mixedtogether with interactive possibility. Under this perspective, the Mediterranean diet isboth composed by a great number of single functional food and, as a whole, it is a resultof a balance between the single nutrient properties, as evidenced by its great capacity toprevent all the chronic degenerative disorders above mentioned. Among the functionalfood present in the Mediterranean diet are cereals, legumes, fruit and vegetables, nuts,olive oil as the prevalent fats for dressing, red wine in moderate quantity and consumed atmeals, fish and poultry as the main source of protein and polyunsaturated/saturated fats,modest quantity of dairy products, spices. Since the Mediterranean diet is a dietarypattern common to more than one country in the Mediterranean basin, some differencescan be found between the food consumed by the populations. The health benefits comingfrom the food of the Mediterranean diet resides on the presence of bioactive compoundssuch as polyphenols, carotenoids, phytosterols, fibers, monounsaturated andpolyunsaturated fatty acids, displaying antioxidant activity, protection from cancer andhypertension, improvement of the immune response. Due to the presence of more thanone functional food groups in the same dietary pattern, sometimes in the same meal,diverse species of polyphenols as well as of phytosterols, fibers and fatty acids can becombined and activated. Next to the positive properties derived from the food, the physical activity also account for an important aspect of this life habits. In fact, sincelifestyle modification programs provide a method to change eating and activity habits,any diet intervention becomes more valid with a regular daily physical activity.The last element characterizing the Mediterranean diet is the perception of a meal asa moment to spend with other people and of food as a positive link. For all these complexand heterogeneous aspects, the Mediterranean diet has recently been named as"intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO".

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFunctional Foods: Sources, Biotechnology Applications and Health Challenges
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)9781624174353
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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