It all started in the late 1940s when the American scientist Ancel Keys (1904 – 2004) of the University of Minnesota, was surprised to discover that poorer people of Mediterranean origin were much healthier than the wealthy citizens of New York!
He was the first to research and relate food and especially fat intake with levels of blood cholesterol and cardiovascular disease as he noticed that rates of heart disease varied tremendously throughout the world. For example, Japan where the traditional diet was lower in fat, and especially saturated fat had far lower rates than Finland. In Finland, he observed that hard-working farmers in East Finland with high saturated fat diet had higher incidence and mortality from heart disease than in the western part of the country. He also noticed that Japanese people who moved to Hawaii and changed their diet soon developed heart problems at the same rate as their fellow Americans.
By contrast people on Crete and Corfu had the highest intake of unsaturated fats from olive oil and fish but had the lowest rates of heart incidents of all. This Greek model of eating became the 'Mediterranean Diet'
In 1957 he led a study of Seven Countries : Finland, Holland, Italy, United States, Greece, Japan and Yugoslavia. This study is known as the “Seven Countries Study” and proved scientifically the nutritional value of the Mediterranean diet and its contribution to the health of the populations that adopted it.
In this study he documented the relationship between lifestyles, nutrition and cardiovascular disease and was able to demonstrate scientifically the nutritional value of the Mediterranean diet and its contribution to our health.
Should it be a surprise that he died a few months before his 101st birthday !