Three New Additions to the Health Benefits of Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean saladIf you want me to prepare a list of top five healthiest diets based on the clinical study results, no doubt I will list the traditional Mediterranean diet as one of the top twos. Why?

Because, it's simply a diet worth chasing. In fact, this particular diet is not just a simple diet plan but a lifestyle choice, a path to a healthier and longer life.

So What is a Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is actually the traditional eating habits of the people living along the Mediterranean coast. For thousands of years, these people have been following a healthy eating style that involves moderate consumption of protein and less eating of meat, but consumption of plenty of fruits and vegetables. Even though they don't take this regular food habit as a diet plan, but they're traditionally continuing an eating habit that is simply the most healthier way to live a fruitful life.

What are the Health Benefits?

The Mediterranean diet is one of the most appreciated diets by dietitians and nutritionists. It helps promote health and prevent many diseases. Over the last two decades, the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet have been studied extensively. Many clinical studies have already established that following a Mediterranean food style reduces the risks of developing of high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, obesity, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Landmark Studies on the Mediterranean Diet Published in 2013

In addition to the numerous health benefits, now you have even more worthy reasons to go for the Mediterranean diet. Longer lifespan in women, improved brain and thinking ability, and reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases are three new additions to the health benefits of Mediterranean diet.

Longer Lifespan and Better Health in Middle-aged Women

A new study published November 5, 2013, in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that middle-aged women who follow a Mediterranean diet may live longer and thrive. To determine the anti-aging effects of the diet, researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School surveyed 10,670 women in the Nurses' Health Study. The women participated, in the questionnaire between 1984 and 1986, were in their beginning in late middle age, late 50s or early 60s.

The US National Institutes of Health and the US National Cancer Institute funded the study. Researchers tracked the lifestyles and eating habits of these women for 15 years. The results of this study uncovered that women who were following a Mediterranean eating style had a 40 percent more chance to survive to age 70, compared with those who were not following a similar diet. These healthy women were found free from chronic diseases, including heart, diabetes, kidney, and cancer, as well.

Preserves Memory and Improves Brain Function

The Mediterranean diet may help improve your brain function and thinking abilities. A study published April 30, 2013, in the journal Neurology suggested that following a Mediterranean diet might be associated with better memory and thinking abilities. However, the study result also reported that the same association was missing among people with diabetes.

The researchers emphasized that the Mediterranean eating style, following a diet that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and avoiding dairy foods, meat, and saturated fats, might help improve brain function and cognitive abilities in humans.

The study evaluated data of 30,239 people aged 45 and older between January 2003 and October 2007, excluding participants with impaired cognitive status, history of strokes, and missing information on questionnaires. The result revealed that healthy people who followed the Mediterranean diet had less than 19% chance to develop problems with their preserving memory and thinking abilities.

Reduces Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases

Adherence to a Mediterranean diet can boost your cardiovascular system and may even help prevent incidence of major cardiac events (e.g., heart attack, stroke, and heart-disease-related death). A groundbreaking study, funded by the Spanish Government, suggested that a Mediterranean diet added with nuts or extra-virgin olive oil might reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in persons at high cardiovascular risk. The study was published April 4, 2013, in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The multicenter trial, PREDIMED (PREvención con DIeta MEDiterranea), in Spain enrolled 7447 persons who were at high cardiovascular risk. The age range of the participants was between 55 and 80 years; 57% were women. The researchers evaluated the participants in three different groups. Participants in two groups followed the Mediterranean diet, but one group consumed the diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and another one followed the diet supplemented with mixed nuts. The participants of the last group consumed a simple diet with low dietary fat.

After nearly five years, based on the results of an interim analysis, the trial was stopped. The participants in two groups who were following the Mediterranean eating habits showed lowest rate of cardiovascular related deaths and least heart problems. Compared with participants following the low-fat diet group, the persons in the group with extra-virgin olive oil showed a 30% lower risk of cardiovascular events, while those in the group with mixed nuts were at 28% lower risk.

What's Included in the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid?

Diagram of the Mediterranean diet pyramid

Medical References

Samieri C, Sun Q, Townsend MK, Chiuve SE, Okereke OI, Willett WC, Stampfer M, & Grodstein F (2013). The association between dietary patterns at midlife and health in aging: an observational study. Annals of internal medicine, 159 (9), 584-91 PMID: 24189593

Tsivgoulis G, Judd S, Letter AJ, Alexandrov AV, Howard G, Nahab F, Unverzagt FW, Moy C, Howard VJ, Kissela B, & Wadley VG (2013). Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and risk of incident cognitive impairment. Neurology, 80 (18), 1684-92 PMID: 23628929

Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvadó J, Covas MI, Corella D, Arós F, Gómez-Gracia E, Ruiz-Gutiérrez V, Fiol M, Lapetra J, Lamuela-Raventos RM, Serra-Majem L, Pintó X, Basora J, Muñoz MA, Sorlí JV, Martínez JA, Martínez-González MA, & PREDIMED Study Investigators (2013). Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. The New England journal of medicine, 368 (14), 1279-90 PMID: 23432189

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