October 4, 2008

In The News: Seeking Health? Look to the Mediterranean

The question of "ideal diets" is a hot topic in the nutrition field.

Although many dietitians agree that a Mediterranean style of eating -- " rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, cereals [mainly whole grains], fish, olive oil and, yes, a bit of red wine with meals" -- is optimal, you are bound to run into individuals of the opinion that good health is achieved by eating liberal amounts of saturated fat and protein while shunning carbohydrates.

The British Medical Journal is helping shed light on this cloudy matter with one of the largest meta-analysis studies ever conducted, compiling "a dozen of the most methodologically sound of these observational studies, which included over 1.5 million people followed for up to eighteen years, analyzing cardiovascular consequences and some other important health outcomes."

End result? The Mediterranean diet was found to have the lowest rate of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's.

To quote directly from the study, "greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a significant improvement in health status, as seen by a significant reduction in overall mortality (9%), mortality from cardiovascular diseases (9%), incidence of or mortality from cancer (6%), and incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (13%)."

Although the Mediterranean Diet is no longer an accurate name (the younger generations in these countries are eating too much processed food and too many calories, as evidenced by rising rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes), this particular way of eating does many things correctly.

Among them? Focusing on minimally processed foods high in fiber and phytonutrients, including heart-healthy fats (monounsaturated and Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats), and keeping added sugars to a minimum.

Although this is termed a "Mediterranean" diet pattern, it contains many parallels to the diet of one of the healthiest countries -- Japan.

This bit of "news" simply confirms what dietitians have been recommending for decades: stick to a desirable caloric range while making sure to eat your fruits and vegetables, keeping an eye on saturated and trans fat intake, choosing healthy fats, and avoiding added sugars whenever possible.

I am also of the belief that since this kind of eating pattern cuts down on empty calories, it makes sticking within a desired caloric range a little easier.

1 comment:

Steve Parker, M.D. said...

The study at hand used an idiosyncratic definition for the Mediterranean diet. For instance, their diet score did not include olive oil.

Nevertheless, the study author conclusions are probably valid. I'm familiar with most of the studies that comprised the meta-analysis.

The improved health numbers reported could actually be much better. The reported improvements apply to a two-point improvement in their Mediterranean diet score, which had a total of nine points. So if a population improved its score from three to seven, the health improvements could be double the numbers reported by the vast majority of medial outlets.

If interested in my full analysis, please see it at: