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Mediterranean Diet Linked to Reductions of Health Risks

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By Josh Piers - - 5 Mins Read

What exactly is it?

You've probably heard of the Mediterranean diet. Your doctor may have recommended it to you if you have a chronic ailment like heart disease or high blood pressure. It's frequently touted as a way to lower your risk of heart disease, depression, and dementia. There are many forms of the Mediterranean diet because the traditional diets of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea varied slightly. The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid was created in 1993 by the Harvard School of Public Health, the Oldways Preservation and Exchange Trust, and the World Health Organization's European Office to help individuals become more familiar with the region's most common foods. The pyramid, which was more of an eating pattern than a rigidly prescribed diet plan in the mid-20th century, prioritized certain foods based on the culinary habits of Crete, Greece, and southern Italy.   Despite having limited access to healthcare, these countries had low rates of chronic disease and a higher than average adult life expectancy at the time. It was thought that their health benefits were due to their diet, which consisted primarily of fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fish, olive oil, limited amounts of dairy, and red wine.  The pyramid also emphasized the importance of daily exercise and the social benefits of eating meals together. [caption id="attachment_7419" align="aligncenter" width="412"] Our diet and mental health have a complicated relationship.[/caption]

How Does It Work?

The Mediterranean diet consists mostly of plant-based foods such as whole grains, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, beans and other legumes, nuts, herbs, and spices. Other foods, such as animal proteins, are consumed in smaller quantities, with fish and seafood being the favored animal protein.  Although the pyramid shape advises what foods to consume in what proportions (e.g., eat more fruits and vegetables and less dairy), it does not prescribe portion sizes or amounts. Individuals must select how much food to take at each meal, as this will vary depending on physical activity and body size. There are a few more features that distinguish this eating plan:
  • Healthy fats are emphasized. Other oils and fats should be replaced with olive oil as the principal additional fat (butter, margarine). Avocados, nuts, and oily fish like salmon and sardines are among the foods that naturally contain healthy fats; walnuts and fish are particularly abundant in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Choosing fish as the preferred animal protein at least twice weekly and smaller portions of chicken, eggs, and dairy (cheese or yogurt) everyday or a few times a week. Red meat is only eaten once or twice a month.
  • Choosing water as the primary daily beverage while allowing a moderate amount of wine with meals (one to two glasses for males and one glass for women).
  • Stressing the importance of everyday physical activity through fun activities.

The Research So Far

The Mediterranean diet has consistently been demonstrated to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and total mortality in studies. Over the course of 12 years, a study of over 26,000 women revealed that those who followed this type of diet had a 25% lower chance of getting cardiovascular disease.  The study looked at a variety of underlying mechanisms that could explain the decrease and discovered that inflammation, blood sugar, and body mass index were the most important factors. This eating plan debunks the idea that those with or at risk of heart disease must eat a low-fat diet. Although the type of fat chosen is important, the quantity of calories from fat is less important.  The PREDIMED study, which included thousands of participants with diabetes or other heart disease risk factors, discovered that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or almonds and without any fat or calorie limitations lowered the chance of stroke death by around 30%. The majority of dietary fats were good fats such those found in fatty fish, olive oil, and nuts, but total fat intake was high at 39-42 percent of total daily calories, much exceeding the Institute of Medicine's recommended fat intake of 20-35 percent. The PREDIMED trial also lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes.  The effects of the diet on aging and cognitive function have also piqued people's interest.  A specific section of DNA called telomeres has been linked to cell damage caused by stress and inflammation, which can contribute to age-related disorders.  These structures naturally shorten as people become older, and the length of these structures can help predict life expectancy and the likelihood of developing age-related disorders. Long telomeres are thought to protect against chronic diseases and death, whereas short telomeres increase the risk of death. Antioxidants can help fight cell stress and sustain telomere length by consuming antioxidant-rich foods such fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. Healthy eating patterns, such as the Mediterranean diet, include these foods.