The link between diet and health is well established. The Mediterranean diet is a dietary pattern associated with areas geographically adjacent to the Mediterranean sea. Anecdotally Mediterranean populations enjoy improved health compared to the populations of central and Northern Europe and some of this benefit is said to derive from the Mediterranean diet they consume. Epidemiological data from early studies such as the seven countries study and others show that populations living in Mediterranean countries have a significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those living in non Mediterranean countries. In addition to this population data, clinical trials have shown that following a Mediterranean diet favourably alters biomarkers that are associated with the development of cardiovascular disease. A number of large scale studies have investigated the effects of consuming the Mediterranean diet and some of these have been published in prestigious medical journals.
One such study was published in the British Medical Journal in 2008. The study was an analysis of previous population studies that had investigated the effects of the Mediterranean diet on health and mortality. The results of the study showed that within the half a million subject analysed, for every two point increase in adherence to the Mediterranean diet, there was a significant reduction in the risk of mortality. In addition, increased adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a significant reduction in cardiovascular mortality. Overall, adherence to a Mediterranean style diet resulted in a 9 % reduction in mortality, a 9 % reduction in cardiovascular mortality, a 6 % reduction in mortality from cancer, and a 13 % reduction in the incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore adherence to the Mediterranean diet appears to be an effective diet for reducing the risk of western lifestyle disease, and should therefore be considered a high quality diet.
So if you do not currently follow a Mediterranean diet but would like to improve your health by adopting a Mediterranean style diet, what sort of changes should you make? The Mediterranean diet is based around the concept of eating unrefined sources of plant foods, including large amounts of fruits and vegetables, along with only whole grain sources of cereals. Including more green leafy vegetables in the form of salads, along with olive oils, olives and other typical Mediterranean foods such as tomatoes and peppers would be a good start. Red meat is eaten sparingly in the Mediterranean diet and instead poultry or fish should be substituted as the main sources of protein. In addition, dairy foods such as cheese, milk and yoghurt should be included. Red wine is also a staple food of the Mediterranean diet and when consumed in moderation provides significant health effects. Both red wine and olive oils contain high concentrations of antioxidants which may have significant anti-inflammatory effects.