5 Health Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet

Mediterranean Diet Health Benefits

The Mediterranean Diet is recognized as one of the healthiest diet patterns worldwide and is associated with numerous health benefits such as a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and many other diseases.

The traditional Mediterranean diet is a predominantly plant-based diet with high consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, wholegrains and extra virgin olive oil.

Balanced with moderate intake of fish, poultry, wine, dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, eggs and low intake of red meat.

Let me take you through five health benefits associated with adhering to a traditional Mediterranean Diet pattern.

5 Health Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet

1. Reduced Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease & Lower Mortality

Mediterranean Diet Reduced CVD Risk

One of the most consistent health benefits associated with the traditional Mediterranean diet is a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease and improved heart health outcomes.

The Mediterranean diet pattern is one of the most rigorously studied for it’s potential cardiovascular health benefits.

The Mediterranean diet contains high intake of a number of heart-healthy foods and food-groups such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish, legumes, wholegrains, red wine and of course the powerhouse extra virgin olive oil.

A 2-point increase in adherence to the Mediterranean diet is associated with an 8–9% reduction in overall mortality and a 10% reduction in risk of CVD. [1]

The available evidence is large, strong, and consistent. Better conformity with the traditional MedDiet is associated with better cardiovascular health outcomes, including clinically meaningful reductions in rates of coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, and total cardiovascular disease. [2]

The present meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies provided evidence that adherence to MD improved survival in people with a history of CVD. [3]

2. Type 2 Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome Prevention

Mediterranean Diet Diabetes Health Benefits

Numerous studies have now found evidence that the Mediterranean diet provides metabolic health benefits and can reduce the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome.

Plant-based Mediterranean diet patterns are rich in a number of bioactive nutrients which have been shown to improve components of metabolic health and diabetes.

Some of these include providing anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phyto-chemicals such as polyphenols to address inflammatory and oxidative stress disorders, modulating the gut microbiota, improving insulin resistance, reducing central obesity and much more.

A meta-analysis involving eight cohort studies with a total of 122,810 individuals found that higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a 19% lower risk of suffering T2D, highlighting the long-term protective effects of the Mediterranean diet. [4]

Results from the landmark PREvención con DIeta MEDiterránea (PREDIMED) nutrition intervention trial showed that participants assigned to the MedDiet had a significant 30% reduction in the risk of T2DM and that it also promoted the reversion of MetS and its components, hyperglycemia and central obesity.

In addition, 5 RCTs showed the beneficial effects of the MedDiet compared with other dietary patterns on glycemic control in patients with T2DM.

A recent meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies showed that greater adherence to the MedDiet was associated with a significant reduction in the risk of diabetes.

Abundant epidemiologic and clinical trial evidence supports the role of the MedDiet on the prevention and management of T2DM and MetS. [5]

Individual components of the Mediterranean diet such as Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) have also shown in a systematic review and meta-analysis to reduce the risk of Type 2 Diabetes by 16% in the highest OO intake group. [6]

3. Mediterranean Diet Protects Against Neurodegenerative Diseases & Cognitive Decline

Mediterranean Diet Protects Against Neurodegenerative Diseases

Epidemiological research has consistently reported a protective association between adhering to the Mediterranean diet and a reduced risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases and age-related cognitive impairment.

Inflammation and oxidative stress play key roles in the pathophysiology of most neurodegenerative diseases and the Mediterranean diet is packed with potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant phyto-nutrients such as polyphenols.

The Mediterranean diet also provides ample quantities of Vitamin B12, which is vital for it’s role in homocysteine metabolism.

Elevated levels of homocysteine, a condition known as hyperhomocysteinemia is now a well established independent modifiable risk factor for dementia, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease.

The majority of studies showed that the MD was associated with improved cognitive function, a decreased risk of cognitive impairment or decreased risk of dementia, or AD. [8]

Most, but not all, epidemiologic studies report a protective association between MD adherence, cognitive impairment, and brain health. Data from clinical trials supporting these observational findings are also emerging.

Evidence for cognitive disorders is abundant, but there is a dearth of literature for other neurodegenerative disorders and for markers of neurodegeneration.

Limited evidence suggests that MD adherence may be protective for Parkinson’s disease risk. [9]

Another potential mechanism for the neuroprotective benefits is the ability of the Mediterranean diet pattern for modulating the gut microbiome, which we’ll be discussing in the next section.

4. Mediterranean Diet Modulates The Gut Microbiome

Mediterranean Diet Modulates The Gut Microbiome

Research has now found evidence that the Mediterranean diet can modulate and improve the composition of the gut microbiome in humans.

The Mediterranean diet pattern is extremely rich in a number of nutritional factors which have been shown to positively influence the gut microbiome such as the high dietary fiber intake, omega-3 fatty acids and phyto-chemicals such as polyphenols.

The gut microbiome modulating benefits of adhering to a Mediterranean diet pattern may be one potential explanation for the longevity and many systemic health benefits associated with the diet.

The Mediterranean diet is also associated with numerous gastrointestinal related health benefits including a reduced risk of colorectal cancer and a lower risk of later-onset Crohn’s disease.

Adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of later-onset Crohn’s disease: results from two large prospective cohort studies. [11]

Collectively, our findings support the feasibility of improving the habitual diet to modulate the gut microbiota which in turn has the potential to promote healthier ageing. [12]

5. Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Cancer Risk

Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Cancer Risk

There is now a growing body of evidence that adhering to a Mediterranean diet may be associated with a reduced risk of developing several types of cancer and overall mortality from cancer.

The Mediterranean diet has shown to be an excellent source of many bioactive compounds that may act as chemopreventive agents and possess potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties such as the polyphenols (oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol) from extra virgin olive oil.

Others factors that may be a potential explanation for the reduced incidence of certain cancers include the high dietary fiber intake, the wide array of antioxidants and phyto-chemicals (carotenoids, vitamin C, polyphenols, from foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil etc), the rich intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA/DHA), dairy foods and the moderate consumption of red wine.

Observational studies provide new evidence suggesting that high adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with reduced risk of overall cancer mortality as well as a reduced risk of incidence of several cancer types (especially cancers of the colorectum, aerodigestive tract, breast, stomach, pancreas, prostate, liver, and head and neck). [13]

The Mediterranean diet is an excellent basic template healthy diet pattern for nutritional compliance and provides good intake of essential nutrients such as Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Iodine and long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA).

Many of these above nutrients such as Vitamin B12 are considered to be problematic with comparable healthy diet patterns such as vegetarian and vegan.

The excellent nutritional density and compliance is one of the most significant health benefits of a Mediterranean diet pattern and where I feel it is nutritionally superior to many other alternative diets.

For example we talked above about the ample intake of dietary Vitamin B12 for supporting cardiovascular health and homocysteine metabolism.

The Mediterranean diet is also one of the best diet patterns for promoting a healthy Omega-3 status and is a great source of all three forms of omega-3 fatty acids such as ALA from (nuts, seeds, leafy greens and other plant-foods) and of course the rich intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) from oily fish and seafood.

References

[1] The Forgotten Fruit: A Case for Consuming Avocado Within the Traditional Mediterranean Diet

[2] The Mediterranean Diet and Cardiovascular Health

[3] Mediterranean Diet and Mortality in People with Cardiovascular Disease: A Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies

[4] Mediterranean Diet Effects on Type 2 Diabetes Prevention, Disease Progression, and Related Mechanisms. A Review

[5] Protective Effects of the Mediterranean Diet on Type 2 Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome

[6] Olive oil in the prevention and management of type 2 diabetes mellitus: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies and intervention trials

[7] Mediterranean Diet Nutrients to Turn the Tide against Insulin Resistance and Related Diseases

[8] Mediterranean Diet, Cognitive Function, and Dementia: A Systematic Review of the Evidence

[9] Mediterranean Diet in Preventing Neurodegenerative Diseases

[10] Gut microbiome-Mediterranean diet interactions in improving host health

[11] Adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a lower risk of later-onset Crohn’s disease: results from two large prospective cohort studies

[12] Mediterranean diet intervention alters the gut microbiome in older people reducing frailty and improving health status: the NU-AGE 1-year dietary intervention across five European countries

[13] Does a Mediterranean-Type Diet Reduce Cancer Risk?

[14] Cancer and Mediterranean Diet: A Review

[15] The Mediterranean Diet as source of bioactive compounds with multi-targeting anti-cancer profile

[16] The Mediterranean Diet, a Rich Source of Angiopreventive Compounds in Cancer

The information in this article has not been evaluated by the FDA and should not be used to diagnose, cure or treat any disease, implied or otherwise.

Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional before making any significant dietary or lifestyle changes including supplements and herbs.


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