The Mediterranean Diet and Health Benefits – What Does the Data Say?

This is part of our ongoing The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging spotlight. Each day, we will be posting some of the great information that’s packed into our book, The Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging.

Today’s topic:
The Mediterranean Diet and Health Benefits – What Does the Data Say?

The results of a large number of studies all point in the same direction – the eating practices of individuals on the “Mediterranean Diet” keep people healthier.

The results of an analysis that combined the findings of many studies in an attempt to find the patterns that have emerged was published recently in Nutrition Reviews.1 The paper considered all of the possible health benefits that could be obtained from this lifestyle. These researchers concluded that the “Mediterranean Diet” does indeed keep people healthier. People who lived this lifestyle their entire lives as well as people who adopted it during participation in a research study enjoyed lower serum total and low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol) concentrations, lower plasma triglycerides, higher serum high-density-cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol) concentrations, greater total plasma antioxidant capacity, more responsive and compliant blood vessels, greater insulin sensitivity and tighter blood glucose control, less cardiovascular disease, fewer heart attacks, fewer and milder joint problems, a tendency to lower body fatness and fewer cancers.

These conclusions repeat those that were reached previously by other experts.4 Those earlier scientists concluded that a shift to the traditional healthy Mediterranean diet by people living in highly developed Western countries could reduce by 10% to 25% the occurrence of cancers of the colon, rectum, breast, prostate, pancreas and endometrium.

Another investigator has published the results of a more detailed examination of the specifics of the Mediterranean dietary lifestyle in the scientific journal, Public Health Nutrition, in an article titled, “Mediterranean Diet and Cancer.”5 This public health expert concluded that individuals who regularly consume at least 5 servings of fruits, at least 5 servings of vegetables, at least 1 serving of fish, at least one serving of whole grains and at least two tablespoons of olive oil (high in monounsaturated fats) every day, while eating red meat no more often than once every other day, would cut in half their chances of ever developing cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, kidney, urinary bladder or prostate (if male) or breast, endometrium or ovary (if female).

The results of a recently-completed “gold standard” randomized controlled clinical trial, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, are consistent with all of the previous conclusions and predictions concerning the health benefits of this lifestyle. In this study, two versions of the Mediterranean dietary lifestyle, differing in major fat source, were compared to a standard low-fat diet.6 Regardless of whether the additional dietary fat was in the form of olive oil or nuts, both versions of the Mediterranean dietary lifestyle produced much tighter control of blood glucose concentrations, promoted normalization of blood pressure, lowered serum LDL-cholesterol concentrations and reduced signs of systemic inflammation.

Beneficial effects on body weight probably contribute to these positive outcomes. As shown in the results of a study of over 3,000 men and women living in northeastern Spain, the closer an individual adheres to this lifestyle, the less likely he or she is to become overweight.7

Next Best Kept Secrets to Healthy Aging topic:
The Mediterranean Diet – Is It The Oil?

References:
1. Serra-Majem L, Roman B, Estruch R. Scientific evidence of interventions using the Mediterranean diet: A systematic review. Nutr Rev 2006;64:S27-S47.
2. Colomer R, Menendez JA. Mediterranean diet, olive oil and cancer. Clin Transl Oncol 2006;8:15-21.
3. Simopoulos AP. The Mediterranean diets: What is so special about the diet of Greece? The scientific evidence. J Nutr 2001;131:3065S-3073S.
4. Trichopoulou A, Lagiou P, Kuper H, Trichopoulos D. Cancer and Mediterranean dietary traditions. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2000;9:869-873.
5. La Vecchia C. Mediterranean diet and cancer. Public Health Nutr 2004;7:965-968.
6. Estruch R, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, Corella D, Salas-Salvado J, Ruiz- Gutierrez V, Covas MI, Fiol M, Gomez-Gracia E, Lopez-Sabater MC, Vinyoles E, Aros F, Conde M, Lahoz C, Lapetra J, Saez G, Ros E; PREDIMED Study Investigators. Effects of a Mediterranean-style diet on cardiovascular risk factors: A randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 2006;145:1-11.
7. Schroder H, Marrugat J, Vila J, Covas MI, Elosua R. Adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet is inversely associated with body mass index and obesity in a Spanish population. J Nutr 004;134:3355- 3361.


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