ANSEL KEYS

ANSEL KEYS AND THE DIET

The fact that marks the emergence of the eating concept denominated Mediterranean Diet is the Seven Countries Study, a research conceived by Ancel Keys and developed by a large team of scientists, allocated to seven selected countries. Keys, a native of the United States, born on 26th January 1904 and deceased in 2004, pursuing his task to establish a new epidemiology for cardiovascular ailments, his name became associated to two well-known diets: the K-ration, a balanced diet created for American soldiers during World War 2; and the Mediterranean Diet, known and recognized as the most appropriate food concept for a healthy life.

Ansel Keys was a student at Berkeley University - California, where he graduated in Political and Economic Sciences, in 1925. In 1929, he completed his M.Sc. in Biology, and, in 1930, his Ph.D. in Biology and Oceanography. He was awarded a second Ph.D. in Physiology by Cambridge University, in 1938. In 1936, he became a professor at Minnesota University, where, in the Faculty of Public Health, he created the Epidemiology Division, of which he was director from 1939 to 1975.

Ansel Keys initial interest in the diets for subsistence and against hunger, led him, in the final instance, to studying the causes of cardiovascular disease. This concern had arisen, in part, from the observation that in the USA, groups of executives, presumably well nourished, were frequent victims of cardiovascular problems, whereas in post-war Europe, the respective rates had decreased significantly, in the wake of a noticeable reduction in food supplies to which people had been submitted under wartime rationing. Besides these data, there was also the fact soldiers fed with balanced rations presented low indices of vascular disease. From comparison of these data, Keys postulated a correlation between food, levels of cholesterol and cardiovascular disturbances. Thus, starting among Minnesota executives, his researches led him to the Seven Countries Study.

This Study was the first research project to systematically study the relation among lifestyle, diet, and heart attack and stroke rates in different populations.

Having embarked on his first experiments in Finland, Italy and Greece in 1956-1957, for over a decade, Ansel Keys led a team of renowned scientists in all the nations covered by the survey. In Yugoslavia (Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia), he was able to count on the supervision of Ratko Buzina; in Italy, Flaminio Fidanza; in Greece (Crete, Corfu and Korakiama), Christ Aravanis; in Finland, Martti Karvonen; in the Low Countries, Louise Dalderup and Daan Kromhout; in the USA, Henry Blackburn and Henry Taylor; and, finally, in Japan, Noboro Kimura and Hironori Toshima. The first studies began in 1956, and the work, along with its conclusions, was published in1970.

In the base countries of the Seven Countries Study, 14 groups were monitored, involving 11,325 healthy men, aged 40-59, during the years covered by the research (women were not included in the research, due to their low incidence of cardiac problems). The work consisted predominantly of observing eating habits, differences according to age, blood pressure, cholesterol rates, smoking and physical activity. Based on these data, the state of health or causes of obits were observed. Throughout the period, 2,288 of the men researched died, the main causes being cardiovascular incidents and cancer, whereas other causes were of lower incidence.

The cross-matching of the information about the causes of death with the habitual type of diet, demonstrated a high incidence of foods rich in saturated fats. With these data in their hands, the eyes of Keys various teams turned towards the regions with lower death rates, and, consequently, focused on the local diets presumed to be healthier, more suitable for mans organism. And this diet was on Crete, an island rich in fresh and dried fruits, vegetables and greens. Moreover, the island also lives on fishing and animal husbandry in small areas and limited to breeding chickens, pigs and goats. More remarkable is the low incidence of industrialized products, allied to the need to walk, as the island consists of small villages and towns, where, apart from the public transport, the car was dispensable. Crete practised what today we call a ?healthy life?. The food pyramid demonstrates the food that comprise the Mediterranean Diet proposed by Ansel Keys and his team.