This time of year, we start thinking about bikini waxes and getting into perfect shape for those lazy, hazy days on the beach. To help us, every day there seems to be a new diet fad to try that frequently turns out to be a nutritional nightmare. Yet there have long been far better alternatives, such as the Mediterranean diet. With its concentration on fruit, vegetables, bread, pasta, chicken, fish, olive oil and a little wine rather than red meat, eggs and dairy products, it helps fight obesity and limits the production of cholesterol in the body, a major factor in heart disease.
Beginning in the late 1950s, American physiologist Ancel Keys and his biochemist wife, Margaret, introduced the Mediterranean diet to the English-speaking world through the publication of three best-selling books: Eat Well, Stay Well (1959), The Benevolent Bean (1967) and Eat Well, Stay Well the Mediterranean Way (1975). To test his theories, from 1963 until 1998, Keys lived and worked in Pioppi, a fishing village on the Cilento coast south of Salerno, where he bought a property out of the royalties from the first book. Named Minnelea, a fusion of 'Elea,' a place visited by Homer's Ulysses and 'Minnesota,' his garden with its orchard, olive trees, vines and vegetable plot overlooked the sea. Keys also set aside allotments there for fellow scientists.
Born to very young parents in Colorado Springs on January 20, 1904, Keys grew up in California, where his family had settled to be near his uncle, silent movie star Lon Chaney. As a teenager, Keys ran away from home and had to take a series of unskilled jobs to survive. On returning, he studied chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, but, still restless, he dropped out and set sail on a tanker for China. Back home again, he took a degree in economics and political science and began working at a Woolworth's store. Bored with this, in 1927, he earned a master's degree in zoology in just six months. To complete his studies, he took a doctorate in oceanography and biology at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and then went to England for his doctorate in physiology from Kings' College of Cambridge. Interested in human physiological reactions under extreme conditions, he joined the Fatigue Laboratory at Harvard in 1936 and took part in an expedition to the Andes. In 1937, he moved to the University of Minnesota to he set up what would become the world famous Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene, where he would continue to work until his retirement.