The Mediterranean Diet is basically characterized by high consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids primarily from olives and olive oil, alongside a daily intake of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals and low fat dairy products. Protein and lipids intake is integrated with weekly consumption of fish, poultry, nuts and legumes, while red meat has but a marginal value. Another pillar of the Mediterranean diet is a moderate daily consumption of red wine, normally accompanied with meats.
According to a study published on the Journal of the American College of Cardiologists, the Mediterranean diet is one of the best-known and well-studied dietary pattern, which has been shown to be associated with decreased mortality from all causes, ranging from cardiovascular diseases to diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer. The anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the Mediterranean diet as a whole also confer to the beneficial role of this pattern. The main benefits of the diet are described below.
The risk of heart attack is halved
A recent study has been presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 64th Annual Scientific Session (San Diego, CA, March 14-16, 2015). Based on a representative sample of more than 2500 Greek adults, it demonstrates that subjects who closely followed the Mediterranean diet were 47 percent less likely to develop heart disease over a ten-year period, as compared to similar adults on a different diet. Among the study’s participants, adherence to the Mediterranean diet was more protective than physical activity.
Cardiovascular diseases are the main cause of death, both in US and in Europe. Evidence suggests that high levels of triglycerides (fats) in the blood after meals, known as postprandial lipemia, are associated with an increased risk for hardening of the arteries, forming the base for heart attack and stroke.
Researchers from many Universities have shown promising results in reducing postprandial lipemia by many components of the diet. In a study led by King’s College in London, a diet that combines unsaturated fats with nitrite-rich vegetables, such as olive oil and lettuce, can protect you from hypertension, another critical factor in the development of cardiovascular diseases. According to the researchers, the results of this study help to explain why previous researches had shown that a Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, could reduce the incidence of cardiovascular problems like stroke, heart failure and heart attack.
The diet has positive effects on metabolic syndrome
The metabolic syndrome is a disorder of the energy storage and use process, currently diagnosed by the combination of three out the five following conditions: abdominal obesity, hypertension, elevated fasting blood sugars, high serum triglyceride concentrations and high LDL/HDL cholesterol ratio. The prevalence in US is about 34% in adults, increasing with age; in Australia is known by the acronym CHAOS (Coronary artery disease, Hypertension, Atherosclerosis, Obesity and Stroke).
The Mediterranean diet has proven beneficial effects not only regarding metabolic syndrome, but also on its individual components including waist circumference, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides levels, blood pressure and glucose metabolism. According to Spanish researchers, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts may help reverse this condition. The article has been recently published on the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Prevention of tumours
According to a study recently published on the British Journal of Cancer, women who eat a Mediterranean diet could cut their risk of having a womb cancer by more than half. These are the findings of a group of Italian researchers, who looked at the diet of over 5,000 Italian women to see how closely they stuck to a Mediterranean diet and whether they went on to develop womb cancer.
This team of researchers broke the Mediterranean diet down into nine different constituents, including vegetables, fruits and nuts, pulses, cereals and potatoes, fish, monounsaturated fats but little meat, milk and other dairy products. They found that women who ate at least seven out of the nine components of the diet lowered their risk of endometrial cancer by 57 percent. “Cancer risk is affected by our age and our genes, but a healthy lifestyle can also play a part in reducing the risk of some of these diseases. Not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, being active, eating healthily and cutting down on alcohol helps to stack the odds in your favour”, that’s what the researchers are telling us.
Chronic kidney disease and Mediterranean Diet
Adhering to a Mediterranean-style diet may significantly reduce the risk of developing chronic kidney disease, according to a study published in a recent issue of the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. It is well known that chronic kidney disease is a growing epidemic with many people still experiencing declining kidney function while ageing, despite significant progresses in clinical protection and prevention of risk factors.
The researchers examined the association of varying degrees of the Mediterranean diet on long-term kidney function in an observational, community based, prospective study. In their analysis of 900 participants followed for nearly seven years, they found that dietary patterns closely resembling the Mediterranean diet were associated with a 50% lower risk of developing chronic kidney disease and with a 42% lower risk of experiencing rapid kidney function decline.
The protective effects on bone
A study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism shows that consumption of a Mediterranean diet enriched with olive oil for two years is associated with increased serum levels of calcitonin, thus suggesting a protective effect on bone.
Age-related bone mass loss and decreased bone strengths affects women as well as men in the elderly, representing an important risk factor for osteoporosis and fracture.
Many studies had previously shown that the incidence of osteoporosis in Europe was lower in the Mediterranean basin. The traditional Mediterranean diet has been indicated as a possible environmental factor which underlines this difference.
Researchers have found that the concentration of total osteocalcin and other bone formation markers were significantly higher in subjects who had been following a Mediterranean pattern including olive oil for at least two years, with no significant changes in serum calcium. According to Spanish researchers who led this study: “This is the first randomized study which demonstrates that olive oil preserves bone in humans, at least as inferred by circulating bone markers”.
Alzheimer disease and Mediterranean Diet
Alzheimer disease is the most common type of dementia in the elderly.
The Mediterranean pattern has shown positive effects not only on the incidence of Alzheimer disease but also on cognitive decline, with an improved Mini Mental State Examination Test score.
Alzheimer disease affects over 30 million people worldwide, but the prevalence is lower in Mediterranean countries. There is a consensus among scientists that the high concentration of healthful monounsaturated fats contained in olive oil, largely consumed in the Mediterranean diet, could play an essential protective role in the development of Alzheimer disease.
More recently, an article published on the Journal of the American Chemical Society has shed new light about the role of olive oil in the prevention of the disease, suggesting that the real protective agent might be a substance called oleocanthal. This component of extra-virgin olive oil helps decrease the accumulation of beta-amyloid (Aβ) in the brain, believed to be the culprit of that kind of damage currently observed in Alzheimer disease. The report concludes that: “Extra-virgin olive oil-derived oleocanthal, associated with the consumption of Mediterranean diet, has the potential to reduce the risk of Alzheimer disease and/or related neurodegenerative dementias”.
The UNESCO as a great sponsor for Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is a modern dietary recommendation which has its origin in the dietary pattern typical of large parts of Greece, including the island of Crete and of southern part of Italy, hence its name. The fifth Session of the Intergovernmental Committee of the UNESCO for the Safeguarding of Cultural Heritage met in Nairobi on November 2010, placed the Mediterranean diet on the prestigious list which represents the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This important award has accredited the Mediterranean lifestyle as a world-class excellence.
Books and conclusive remarks
There are many books dealing with the Mediterranean Diet and here are only some suggestions about the most read ones you can easily found on Amazon (click on pictures). Reading one of these books -relatively cheaper – can be a good start to accustom to this kind of Diet, that is really far remote from the standard American Diet.
What I strongly recommend is to leave me some feedback of yours, concerning your impressions with the Mediterranean Diet, your doubts and your desires.
As I’m a MD coming from Italy, which can be considered with good reason the cradle of the Mediterranean Diet alongside with Greece, I can give you (free, of course) all the support you need to start with this Diet, which I know very well.
There is a lot of folklore about this Diet and there many warlocks, coming from God knows where, pretending to sell you a good Diet that nothing has to do with the real Mediterranean Diet. Stay away from them, their real interest is for your wallet !