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The Many Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet

The Many Benefits of a Mediterranean Diet

Olive oil is a key staple of the Mediterranean diet. It contains very high levels of monounsaturated fats—and is chockfull of health-promoting and disease-busting antioxidants.

I believe 100% in eating a Mediterranean-style diet (which is followed by the 16 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including Greece, Southern Italy, and Spain). I follow it when it comes to my family—and recommend it to my patients. The main reason: studies show that this way of eating reduces overall mortalityby keeping you healthy. It also reduces your risk of major diseases that can take a toll on your body—and your skin. Take a look:

√ It keeps your heart healthy. There have been numerous studies showing the dramatic effects of a Mediterranean diet on heart health. In the landmark Lyon Heart Study, higher ALA (a type of omega-3 healthy fat found in fish, vegetables, and yogurt) consumption—a hallmark of the Mediterranean diet—dramatically reduced total and cardiovascular mortality as well as nonfatal myocardial infarctions by more than 70 percent[ii].

√ It keeps your brain sharp. Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center and Washington University reviewed brain MRI's of 712 octogenarians and found[iii]that those who followed a diet rich in olive oil, whole grains, fish, vegetables, and fruit were up to 36% less likely to show brain damage from small strokes (associated with cognitive problems).

According to one study in the Journal of the American Medical Association—when combined with regular exercise, following a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by 48 percent[iv].

√ It reduces your risk of cancer. Patients who followed a Mediterranean-type diet had reduced mortality from all causes, but also a decreased risk for cancer overall[v]. One study, in particular, found that eating this Mediterranean-style diet is associated with a significantly lower risk for stomach cancer[vi]. Other research, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that post-menopausal women who eat a Mediterranean-style diet had a reduced risk of breast cancer[vii].

It seems that this plant-based style of eating also protects against skin cancer; Mediterranean populations have very low rates of skin cancer—despite living in sunny climates. The incidence of melanomas (the deadliest form of skin cancer) in Mediterranean countries is lower than in Northern Europe and significantly lower in other warm-weather countries like New Zealand and Australia. Some experts theorize that the components of a Mediterranean diet (namely the antioxidants found in it) may provide protection against skin cancer[viii].

√ It reduces your risk of diabetes. Eating a plant-based diet can help reduce your risk of obesity (which is a top risk factor for type 2 diabetes), but replacing saturated fats (like coconut and palm oils, butter, and cheese) with monounsaturated fats—typical of the Mediterranean region, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and oil olive—has been found to improve insulin sensitivity, which may explain, say researchers, "the favorable effect of the Mediterranean diet on glucose and insulin levels"[ix]. Researchers also found that eating a diet with omega-3 fatty acids (found in the seeds, nuts, and fish that's prevalent in a Mediterranean diet) also improves insulin sensitivity[x].

According to researchers[xi], 90% of Type 2 diabetes (as well as 80% of coronary heart disease and 70% of strokes) can be avoided by eating a Mediterranean-style diet, as well as getting regular physical activity and not smoking[xii].

This all goes to show that you really are what you eat: take in healthy foods—like those followed in a Mediterranean diet—and your body will be better off.

Eat well & be healthy,

Sources:

"Adherence to Mediterranean Diet and Health Status: Meta-Analysis," Sofi F, Cesari F, Abbate R, et al., British Medical Journal, 2008; 337:a1344-50; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18786971

[ii] "Optimal Diets for Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease," F.B. Hu, W.C. Willett, Journal of the American Medical Association, 2002, 288, 2569-78.

[iii] Scheduled presentation, Nikolaos Scarmeas, M.D., Connie Diekman, R.D.; American Academy of Neurology annual meeting, Toronto, April 10-17, 2010.

[iv] "Physical Activity, Diet and Risk of Alzheimer Disease," N. Scarmeas, J. Luchsinger, N. Schupf, et al., Journal of the American Medical Association, 2009, 302(6), 627-637.

[v] "Mediterranean Dietary Pattern in a Randomized Trial: Prolonged Survival and Possible Reduced Cancer Rate," M. De Lorgeril, P. Salen, JL Martin, et al., Archives of Internal Medicine, 1998, 158; 1181-7;http://www.researchgate.net/publication/13659917_Mediterranean_dietary_pattern_in_a_randomized_trial_prolonged_survival_and_possible_reduced_cancer_rate

[vi] "Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet and Risk of Gastric Adenocarcinoma Within the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Cohort Study," G. Buckland, A. Agudo, L. Luján, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Feb. 2010, 91(2), 3810-90; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20007304

[vii] "Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk and Dietary Patterns in the E3N-EPIC Prospective Cohort Study," V. Cottet, M. Touvier, A. Fournier, et al., American Journal of Epidemiology, Nov. 15, 2009, 170(10), 1257-67;http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19828509

[viii] "SPF on Your Plate: Researcher Connects the Mediterranean Diet with Skin Cancer Prevention," ScienceDaily, American Friends of Tel Aviv University, August, 17, 2010; www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100816122206.htm.

[ix] "Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet," I. Shai, D. Schwarzfuchs, Y. Henkin, et al., New England Journal of Medicine. 2008, 359(3), 229-41.

[x] "Specific Insulin Sensitivity and Leptin Responses to a Nutritional Treatment of Obesity via a Combination of Energy Restriction and Fatty Fish Intake," I. Abete, D. Parra, A.B. Crujeiras, Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, Sept. 2008, (21) 6, 591-600;http://www.researchgate.net/publication/23226269_Specific_insulin_sensitivity_and_leptin_responses_to_a_nutritional_treatment_of_obesity_via_a_combination_of_energy_restriction_and_fatty_fish_intake

[xi] "The Mediterranean Diet: Science and Practice," WC Willett, Public Health Nutrition, 2006, 9 (1A), 105-10;http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16512956