The Mediterranean diet is a modern nutritional recommendation inspired by the traditional dietary patterns of coastal regions of southern Italy as well as Crete and other parts of Greece in the 1960s.
Despite its name, this diet is not typical of all Mediterranean cuisine. In Northern Italy, for instance, lard and butter are commonly used in cooking, and olive oil is reserved for dressing salads and cooked vegetables. In North Africa, wine is traditionally avoided by Muslims. In both North Africa and the Levant, along with olive oil, sheep’s tail fat and rendered butter (samna) are traditional staple fats.
The most commonly-understood version of the Mediterranean diet was presented, amongst others, by Dr Walter Willett of Harvard University’s School of Public Health from the mid-1990s on, including a book for the general public. Based on “food patterns typical of Crete, much of the rest of Greece, and southern Italy in the early 1960s”, this diet, in addition to “regular physical activity,” emphasizes “abundant plant foods, fresh fruit as the typical daily dessert, olive oil as the principal source of fat, dairy products (principally cheese and yogurt), and fish and poultry consumed in low to moderate amounts, zero to four eggs consumed weekly, red meat consumed in low amounts, and wine consumed in low to moderate amounts”. Total fat in this diet is 25% to 35% of calories, with saturated fat at 8% or less of calories.