7 Reasons Why The Mediterranean Diet IS The Best Diet

June 23, 2018

Mediterranean diet benefitsWhen the news came out that the famous study PREDIMED was retracted, honestly I didn’t blink an eye. Not because I didn’t think it was true, but because even if it was, it would not change much.

Back in 2013, I was the health editor for Olive Oil Times. I saw the study but had not yet started writing about it. My editor then sent me an email and told me that the New York Times wrote about it and so I wrote about it as well and it was covered by all the top newspapers and websites. It was huge. It basically showed that people who followed a Mediterranean diet who were at high risk for heart disease had 30% less cardiovascular incidents compared to those who followed a low fat diet. For me it was not completely clear why this particular study gained so much attention. There were after all, hundreds of other studies on the Mediterranean Diet before this one which showed its benefits not only for cardiovascular disease, but also for cancer, depression and cognitive disorders. I even wrote about this in OliveTomato in 2013:

“The media particularly in the U.S. has been going crazy with this latest study with headlines such as “Mediterranean Diet study rocks the medical world”,  “Pour on the olive oil!”  “The New Gold Standard”, “Mediterranean diet slashes risk” and “The media talks about a gigantic study, -not exactly-, a bit over 7000 individuals and it is reported in the media that “Few previous studies have succeeded in proving a direct link between a diet and a reduction in life-threatening events like strokes.” I’m not sure it’s a direct link”

After the publicity of that one study (good PR played a role too), The Mediterranean Diet enjoyed a huge increase of popularity. As I have mentioned in other articles and posts, Mediterranean Diet experts popped up from everywhere, and unfortunately they were not really “experts” on the Mediterranean diet at all. They were just going with the flow and writing books about a diet they had no experience with, other than reading the generic guidelines or after having vacationed in Italy or Greece.

Now when we see a title that says the study was retracted, most of us will think that in fact the findings of this particular study are false, however that was not the case here. There were  irregularities in the randomization procedures. The researchers reanalyzed the data and the updated manuscript has been republished in the NEJM as of last week. There were no significant changes to the findings, despite the new randomization methods.

So that’s that. But even if the results of this study were completely false, that does not erase all the other studies that came before and after this study. We know that a diet rich in plant foods, extra virgin olive oil with a moderate amount of good fats is protective. We also know that low fat diets just don’t work, particularly for weight loss.

So I advise you to ignore most of the headlines, not because I like the Mediterranean diet but because science has shown us again and again that this diet has the most benefits for a wide range of diseases. Let’s be honest here, saying that a diet we know all these years to be the gold standard of diets is no more, sure makes for a great headline, but it isn’t true. It truly is fake news.

7 Reasons Why The Mediterranean Diet IS The Best Diet

1. Reduces the risk of Cardiovascular Disease

Research is increasing in that the Mediterranean diet as a whole can protect the heart even compared with conventional low fat diets. Research shows that the Mediterranean diet is ideal for an individual with an increased risk of heart disease. A study by Greek researchers published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, actually showed that individuals who already suffer of coronary artery disease, have a 27 % lower risk of mortality when they followed a Mediterranean diet. Another large study the Epic-Norfolk study, found that  following the Mediterranean diet was associated with lower heart diseases incidence and mortality in an English (non-Mediterranean) population.

2. Helps you live longer

The closer an individual follows the Mediterranean diet, the longer they live, even if they do not live in a country in the Mediterranean region. This has been shown by numerous studies, and most recently by the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (EPIC), in which researchers gathered information on the nutritional habits of 74607 people from 9 countries. The participants were graded according to how closely they followed the Mediterranean diet. For every 2 point increase there was an 8 percent decrease in mortality.

3. Protects from Diabetes

The Mediterranean diet is a moderate carbohydrate diet with a high intake of fiber, complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and has been shown that it can lower the risk of type II diabetes. A review of studies by Austrian researchers found a 19% reduction of risk of diabetes with adherence to a Mediterranean diet.

4. Keeps Cancer Away

The traditional Mediterranean diet is rich in substances that have protective effects such as selenium, vitamin E and C, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants such as polyphenols from olive oil and resveratrol from wine. All these nutrients are associated with a lower risk of cancer, particularly prostate and colon cancer. A large meta-analysis conducted by German researchers that included 83 studies (over 2 million participants) provided important evidence of the beneficial effect of high adherence to a Mediterranean diet in regards to prevention and overall cancer risk and specific types of cancer, especially colorectal cancer.

5. It can keep you thin

With 40 percent of calories coming from fat it is expected that this diet can be fattening. However, a Spanish study analyzed data from 3162 people and assessed their diets based on the frequency of consumption of foods associated with the Mediterranean diet. A high score meant that they followed the diet closely. The results showed that a higher score was associated with a lower body weight. Another study associated adherence to the Mediterranean diet with less body fat.

6. Good for Your Brain

The study, led by the University of California at San Francisco, on over 6,000 people found that participants who stuck to a Mediterranean style diet for over a year had a 30-35 % less chance scoring low on cognitive tests. These tests include memory, attention-speed and more. This protective benefit was even seen with individuals who modestly followed the diet. These results were independent of factors like smoking, exercise, overall health, and socio-economic status

7. It is Easy to Follow

While this may not be a direct health benefit, the truth is that a diet is good only if you follow it. A Mediterranean diet is a naturally occurring diet based on the circumstances at the time… and people made it work. So for example, since they did not have the luxury of eating meat often, they made sure that foods that they did have available were delicious. The abundance of crave-worthy vegetable dishes in the Mediterranean diet, makes it so easy to eat healthy. The food is simple to prepare and using locality and seasonality as your guide makes everything easy. A good “diet” should keep you healthy and happy. An extremely strict diet or a diet based on all sorts of pre-packaged foods is not healthy, fun or sustainable.

-References-

Mediterranean Diet and Survival Among Patients With Coronary Heart Disease in Greece, Arch Intern Med. 2005

Prospective association of the Mediterranean diet with cardiovascular disease incidence and mortality and its population impact in a non-Mediterranean population: the EPIC-Norfolk study, BMC Medicine 2016

Modified Mediterranean diet and survival: EPIC-elderly prospective cohort study, BMJ 2005

Systematic review and meta-analysis of different dietary approaches to the management of type 2 diabetes, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2013

Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and risk of diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Public Health Nutrition, May 2015 

Adherence to Mediterranean diet and risk of cancer: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies, Cancer Medicine, 2015

Adherence to the Traditional Mediterranean Diet Is Inversely Associated with Body Mass Index and Obesity in a Spanish Population, The Journal of Nutrition, 2004

Adherence to the Mediterranean diet and body fat distribution in reproductive aged women, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2013

Mediterranean diet, cognitive function, and dementia: a systematic review, Epidemiology, 2013

Healthy Eating Habits May Preserve Cognitive Function and Reduce the Risk of Dementia, Alzheimer’s Association, 2017

Photo by Elena Paravantes © All Rights Reserved

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8 Comments

  • Reply Vickie Palmer June 24, 2018 at 2:57 pm

    My doctor told me to follow the Mediterranean diet because of my heart disease and borderline diabetes.

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN June 24, 2018 at 3:27 pm

      It is a good diet to control your glucose levels and the original heart healthy diet . Good Luck!

  • Reply lagatta à Montréal June 24, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    Dear Elena, you have a funny typo – “Helps you love longer”, but of course if it helps circulatory health, that is also true!

    That fish looks so good. What is it – sardines, anchovies or something else?

    • Reply Elena Paravantes RDN June 24, 2018 at 4:36 pm

      Ha Ha Thanks, Yes I guess it would help you love longer! Those are grilled sardines.

  • Reply Mo June 25, 2018 at 1:57 pm

    Elena, Off the topic but might interest you.

    https://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-community-in-cretes-last-survivor-watches-its-rebirth-with-gratitude/

    Enjoy your site.

    Regards,

    Mo

  • Reply Thomas Shurling July 6, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    Elena, I love your blog. I’ve been following you for 5 years and have seen miraculous changes in my health and life.

    I just saw this study which adds one more reason to go Mediterranean- nutrients for eye health. Here’s the link from Science Daily:

    Naoko A Chapman, Robert J Jacobs, Andrea J Braakhuis. Role of diet and food intake in age-related macular degeneration: a systematic review. Clinical & Experimental Ophthalmology, 2018; DOI: 10.1111/ceo.13343

  • Reply Giorgia July 21, 2018 at 8:03 pm

    Hi Elena,

    I’m wondering if you have any guidelines for healthy weight gain following a Mediterranean diet? Obviously it depends heavily on the person and the situation so it’s not really a fair question, but is there any general advice / ‘good practice’ that comes to mind? (I could specify that this is about ‘regular’ weight gain following an illness – I’m not looking to body-build or anything like that…)

    Thanks so much!

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