The Mediterranean Diet: health benefits confirmed

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 16th March 2011

A new meta-analysis of 50 studies, including half a million subjects, has confirmed that eating a Mediterranean diet has a wide variety of health benefits for lifestyle diseases

The Mediterranean diet includes lots of olives and olive oil (a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids), fruits, vegetables and wholegrain cereals, low-fat dairy, fish, nuts, and legumes, and moderate alcohol consumption with meals, but relatively little red meat.

The Mediterranean diet, according to Dr. Panagiotakos and Christina-Maria Kastorini, MSc, Ph.D. cand., is one of the best-known and well-studied dietary patterns.

The diet is associated with lower risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and some types of cancer. Eaters of a Mediterranean diet are less likely to die of any disease at all.

Additionally, it has a beneficial effect on abdominal obesity, HDL (or ‘bad’) cholesterol, lipids levels, glucose metabolism and blood pressure levels, which are all risk factors for the development of metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of the Mediterranean diet as a whole, as well as the effects of the individual components of the diet, and especially olive oil, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fish, also confer to the beneficial role of this pattern.

“The prevalence of the metabolic syndrome is increasing rapidly throughout the world, in parallel with the increasing incidence of diabetes and obesity, and is now considered a major public health problem,” said lead investigator Demosthenes Panagiotakos, Ph.D., associate professor in Biostatistics-Epidemiology of Nutrition, Department of Science of Dietetics – Nutrition, Harokopio University of Athens. “Additionally, the metabolic syndrome is one of the main causes of cardiovascular disease (directly or indirectly), associated with personal and socio-economic burdens. As a result, prevention of this condition is of considerable importance.”

“To the best of our knowledge, our study is the first work that has systematically assessed, through a large meta-analysis, the role of the Mediterranean diet on metabolic syndrome and its components,” he said. “Our results add to the existing knowledge, and further demonstrate the protective role and the significance that lifestyle factors, and mainly dietary habits, have when it comes to the development and progression of the metabolic syndrome.”

Encouraging a healthy dietary pattern like the Mediterranean diet, as well an active lifestyle, seems to be a cornerstone in developing public health strategies for the prevention of the metabolic syndrome, Dr. Panagiotakos suggested. Taking into account the limited financial resources many countries face in the 21st century, better eating seems to be an effective and affordable means for preventing cardiovascular diseases, at the population level, he suggested. In addition to its various health benefits, this dietary pattern can be easily adopted by all populations and various cultures.

The study is published in the March 15 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.