A new, updated meta-analysis combined the findings of many prospective studies, pooling more than 2 million people, and looked to see whether sticking to a Mediterranean diet was associated with protection from chronic diseases and a longer, healthier life.
The answer is a resounding yes! Adherence to a Mediterranean eating style seems to offer significant defense from heart disease and cancer and to improve overall health. And there’s more.
Mediterranean style diet, what is it and how do we measure adherence to it?
The Mediterranean diet isn’t really a specific diet, but more of an eating style, traditionally followed by the people living in the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. The eating pattern is characterized by high consumption of fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, legumes and complex carbohydrates, moderate consumption of fish, olive oil as the main fat source, low to moderate consumption of red wine during meals, and low consumption of meat and full fat dairy.
How can sticking to a Mediterranean diet be quantified? There are several well-established scoring methods that compare a person's diet to the traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern. Basically, you get a score of zero for each component of the Mediterranean diet you don’t meet the cutoff for, and a 1 for each one you do. Maximum score is 9, and you get no points for having a Greek mother.
The Mediterranean diet’s promise of good health expands
The study, to be published in the November print edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and led by Francesco Sofi, collected all relevant prospective studies that looked at the association between the Mediterranean diet and health, including 7 new studies that appeared in the last 2 years.
The researchers found that a mere 2 point increase in adherence to a Mediterranean diet was associated with these beneficial health outcomes:
• 8 percent reduction in deathThe newer studies in the meta-analysis showed that the Mediterranean diet also seems to offer some protection from stroke and mild cognitive losses.
• 10 percent reduction in cardiovascular illness and cardiac death
• 6 percent reduction in cancer
• 13 percent reduction in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s
A 2 point increase, as explained above, amounts to pretty minor lifestyle change, akin to eating a good amount of fruits and some nuts – clearly doable.
Should we care?
I’m not holding my breath for the final verdict on the calorie restriction diet’s promise to prolong life. I wouldn’t consider adopting it no matter what. I, for one, wouldn’t sacrifice everyday joy on a regular basis for a presumptive longer life.
But the Mediterranean eating pattern is one that’s been the lifestyle of choice of some of the most food-loving hedonistic people in the world. It’s no good-for-you-bad-for-your-palate misery. And I think it’s also best viewed as a pattern, a total plan, and adopted as one. There’s no point in trying to tease out which part of the eating pattern confers the most benefit or in frying chicken nuggets in extra virgin olive oil. The pattern works as a whole; all parts of it are probably beneficial, and it very well might be that they work in conjunction with each other.
I thank OldWays for allowing me the use of their illustrative Mediterranean diet pyramid. Head over to their website. It offers a wealth of recipes, resources and motivation for anyone looking to go Med.