There are good reasons to look at changing to a Mediterranean Diet, research over the past 15 years has shown that not only does it lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes 2. It also has an impact on reducing brain tissue loss, reducing cognitive decline.

The PREDIMED study made headlines in 2013 for having caused a substantial reduction in cardiovascular disease. Up to a 30% CVD risk reduction.

Lifestyle changes you make now can have an effect on chronic diseases later in life. In conjunction with exercise, a good diet can combat the 21st century epidemic in diabetes and help you maintain a healthy weight.

PREDIMED (Prevención con Dieta Mediterránea) was a big randomized control trial conducted in Spain, from 2003 to 2009. It involved 7446 peopled aged 55-80. Here is an extract from the study.

Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health: Teachings of the PREDIMED Study

Emilio Ros Miguel A. Martínez-González Ramon Estruch Jordi Salas-Salvadó Montserrat Fitó José A. Martínez Dolores Corella Advances in Nutrition, Volume 5, Issue 3, 1 May 2014, Pages 330S–336S, https://doi.org/10.3945/an.113.005389

Introduction

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the most important threat for population health in the 21st century (1).

Healthy lifestyles and diets at younger and middle ages are key factors for a life free of chronic diseases at later ages. It follows that CVD prevention through diet and lifestyle is a public health priority. Because diet appears to be particularly relevant in CVD prevention, assessment of the “diet-heart hypothesis” was actively investigated in nutritional epidemiology during the past 50 y (2).

In this context, analysis of food patterns, rather than single nutrients and foods, is the ideal approach to examine the effects of the overall diet with the synergistic interaction of its food and nutrient components (3).

One food pattern reputed for its beneficial health effects is the Mediterranean diet; the traditional dietary pattern followed by Mediterranean populations in the early 1960s).

It is characterized by the following: 1) abundant use of olive oil; 2) high consumption of plant foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, nuts, and seeds); 3) frequent but moderate intake of wine (especially red wine) with meals; 4) moderate consumption of fish, seafood, fermented dairy products (yogurt and cheese), poultry, and eggs; and 5) low consumption of red and processed meat and sweets. The

PREDIMED Study’s Conclusions

To the best of the authors’of this reports knowledge, PREDIMED demonstrated for the first time in a randomized clinical trial that the traditional MeDiet protects against CVD and confirmed that it beneficially influences classical and emergent cardiovascular risk factors.

Important teachings from this landmark study deserve to be discussed. First, the results clearly show that a high-unsaturated fat dietary pattern is better for cardiovascular health than a lower-fat diet.

Second, the PREDIMED MeDiets were successful in older persons at high risk of CVD, most of whom were being treated with antidiabetic, hypolipidemic, and/or antihypertensive drugs; hence, it can be said that the MeDiet was effective in controlling part of the residual risk observed after standard treatment of cardiovascular risk factors.

Third, given the age of PREDIMED participants, the results tell us that it is never too late to change dietary habits to improve cardiovascular health.

Fourth, the supplemented foods given to participants at no cost in the 2 MeDiet groups were instrumental in promoting good adherence to the overall dietary pattern.

Thus, part of the success of the study might be attributed to EVOO and nuts, unsaturated FA-rich and antioxidant-rich foods that, despite their high fat content, did not promote weight gain.

Finally, nutritional genomic studies show that adherence to the MeDiet blunts the development of cardiometabolic phenotypes in genetically susceptible individuals, a finding that concurs with previous evidence obtained from alternate healthy dietary patterns.

The PREDIMED study was conducted in Spain, a Mediterranean population. Except for the customary use of olive oil and regular intake of wine with meals, the MeDiet does not differ from vegetable-based dietary patterns recommended for health in other countries, so the findings are likely to be translatable to non-Mediterranean populations, albeit with the quandary of whether preferences, access, cost, and taste will permit using olive oil and wine to a similar extent as in Mediterranean Southern Europe.

Importantly, the 30% CVD risk reduction shown with the MeDiet in the PREDIMED study is of similar magnitude to that reported in the statin trials, although it is obtained at no cost for the health system.

 

In other recent studies, many more health benefits of have been found by eating a Mediterranean Diet.

Leslie Kernisan, MD MPH says that “Mediterranean diet is best for maintaining the health of aging brains and bodies?

One study published in 2016 found that older Spanish women who were randomly assigned to stick to a Mediterranean diet — supplemented by extra olive oil — developed fewer cases of invasive breast cancer, compared to women who were merely advised to reduce dietary fat.

This study was published by the same research team that reported earlier that year that Spaniards assigned to a Mediterra¬¬nean diet — supplemented with either olive oil or nuts — experienced less cognitive decline. And a 2013 report from the same group found that the Mediterranean diet led to a 30% decrease in cardiovascular events (strokes and heart attacks).

To study the effect of the Mediterranean diet on cognitive decline, the researchers performed extra testing on a subset of 447 participants. These people had neuropsychological testing at the start of the study, and people with mild cognitive impairment or depression were excluded. Three-quarters of the initial participants had follow-up cognitive testing at the end of the study; average follow-up time was close to 4 years.

This cognitive sub-study found that participants assigned to either of the Mediterranean diets maintained stable levels of cognition, whereas the ones advised to follow a low-fat diet experienced a small amount of cognitive decline.”

If you look at all the various research done on the Mediterranean Diet, what becomes clear is that it is definitely good for you.

 

How to follow the PREDIMED Mediterranean diet

Mediterranean Diet Do’s:
  • Use olive oil abundantly for cooking, and for seasoning dishes
  • Eat 2 or more servings of vegetables every day, with at least one serving fresh in a salad
  • Eat at least 2-3 daily servings of fresh fruit (“including natural juices”)
  • Eat at least 3 servings per week of “legumes”
  • Eat at least 3 servings of fish or seafood, including at least one serving of fatty fish
  • Eat at least one weekly serving of nuts or seeds
  • Eat white meat (chicken, rabbit) instead of red meat, burgers, sausages, or processed meat
  • Cook at least twice weekly with a sauce of tomato, onion, and garlic, which should be made by simmering these ingredients in olive oil. Use this as dressing for vegetables, pasta, rice, and other dishes.
  • Eat two main meals of the day seated at the table; each should last at least 20 minutes
  • Use wine as main alcohol, drink 1-3 glasses per day
  • Consume the following foods as desired: nuts, eggs, fish, seafood, low-fat cheese, dark chocolate, and whole-grain cereals.

 

Mediterranean Diet Don’ts: (Limit or avoid)
  • cream, butter, margarine
  • cold meats, pâté, duck
  • carbonated or sweet beverages
  • pastries, cakes, donuts, cookies, puddings, custards, especially if industrially produced
  • fries and potato chips
  • Aim for less than one serving per week of cured ham, red meat, and fatty cheeses.
  • In addition to the above recommendations, half of the people assigned to the Mediterranean diet also had to consume extra olive oil (one liter per week) or extra nuts (30g per day).

 

The British Heart Foundation 5 top tips for making your meals more Mediterranean

 

A Mediterranean style of eating is good for your health, and shouldn’t mean a massive change if you’re already eating a balanced diet. Here are some easy tips:

 

1. Eat more fruit and salad

Make sure you eat fruit and veg at every meal and choose them as snacks and puddings too.  Make a green salad more interesting by introducing tomatoes and peppers, and fruits such as figs, pomegranates, citrus fruits and grapes.

 

2. Have meat-free days

The Mediterranean diet typically includes more fish and less meat. Going for fish, beans and pulses is a good way to increase your protein.

 

3. Focus on ‘good’ fats

Unsaturated fats are the main type of fat used in the Mediterranean, most famously olive oil. Replace butter, lard and ghee with unsaturated oils from plants and seeds such as olive and rapeseed oil. This can help to lower your cholesterol levels.

4. Make it your own

Mediterranean flavours may not lend themselves to all cuisines, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still adopt some of the elements of this approach. For example, if you are cooking a spicy dish such as curry and you’re looking for a healthier alternative to ghee, coconut or palm oil, why not try rapeseed or sunflower oil? Like olive oil, these are unsaturated fats but they have more of a neutral flavour.

5. Drink sensibly

Many people assume that wine is a key element of the Mediterranean diet, but it is optional. If you do drink, it’s important to keep it in moderation.

 

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