Why So Much Hype About the Mediterranean Diet?

DIET_MEDITERRANEAN_ITALIAThe Mediterranean Diet is considered one of the most healthy diets for humankind. It has been well studied over decades and is considered among the best of eating methods due to evidence of increased protection against several diseases (Gotsis et al., 2015). A Mediterranean diet is a plant-based diet that is heavily focused on consumption of vegetables and high quality olive oil, moderate consumption of animal protein and minimal consumption of saturated fats and processed foods.

Studies indicate ‘a Mediterranean diet may help prevent type 2 diabetes’, can reduce heart disease by 79% in patients with established heart disease and appears to decrease the risk of several types of cancer by 13% (Esposito & Giugliano, 2014; Hyman, 2006; Schwingshackl & Hoffmann, 2015).

Mental health may also be protected. Suboptimal B-vitamin intake can elevate homocysteine thus decreasing synthesis of brain monoamines, contributing to mechanisms leading to depression (Sanchez-Villegas, Henriquez, Bes-Rastrollo, & Doreste, 2006). Ample B vitamins, in a highly bioavailable form, are available in a Mediterranean Diet and may protect against depression.

Children and adolescents following a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce their BMI, fat mass, glucose, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, risk of asthma and increase HDL cholesterol (Rice et al., 2015; Velazquez-Lopez et al., 2014).

Comparatively, the Standard American Diet (SAD) seems to have the opposite affect on chronic disease due to a high intake of refined carbohydrates, such as those coming from French bread, corn syrup, and sugar. Both obesity and the prevalence of diabetes increase proportionately to the increase in consumption of refined carbohydrates (Gross, Li, Ford, & Liu, 2004).  A SAD is characterized by high intakes of processed grains, fatty meats and added sugars, coupled with low consumption of fruits and vegetables (Grotto & Zied, 2010). 

Regardless of what the data shows, creating healthful dietary habits isn’t always easy. A study examining older, rural-residing women found perceived barriers and family support affected the implementation of and adherence to healthy eating behaviors (Yates et al., 2012). Support from health practitioners via motivational sessions, patient materials, personal feedback about a patient’s goal-achievement, recipes, meal plans and shopping lists have been shown to boost compliance and long-term maintenance to a healthful diet (Garcia & Martinez-Gonzalez, 2008; Zazpe et al., 2008). We are wired to support one another and thrive under support. Integrating supportive systems as part of your health goals are a key means to achieving success.

Another study found socioeconomic and demographic factors affecting compliance in healthy eating (Henson, Blandon, & Cranfield, 2010).  It’s suggested that easy access to inexpensive food will encourage people to eat a Mediterranean Diet (Santomauro et al., 2014). Financial burdens and difficulty accessing the foods of the Mediterranean diet are important factors obstructing adherence. Effective strategies to overcome these obstacles are largely absent from research, however many small grassroots efforts to incorporate produce into low income areas have been attempted, with varying degrees of success.

Have you ever tried the Mediterranean Diet? Do you think such a diet would be a panacea or is there more to health promotion than just what we put on our plate?

 Resources:

Esposito, K., & Giugliano, D. (2014). Mediterranean diet and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes/metabolism Research and Reviews, 30 Suppl 1, 34-40. doi:10.1002/dmrr.2516

Garcia, I., & Martinez-Gonzalez, M. (2008). What Can Be Done to Increase Adherence to the Mediterranean Food Pattern? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 1145-1145. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2008.04.012

Gotsis, E., Anagnostis, P., Mariolis, A., Vlachou, A., Katsiki, N., & Karagiannis, A. (2015). Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet An Update of Research Over the Last 5 Years. Angiology, 66(4), 304-318.

Gross, L. S., Li, L., Ford, E. S., & Liu, S. (2004). Increased consumption of refined carbohydrates and the epidemic of type 2 diabetes in the united states: An ecologic assessment. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(5), 774-779. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.uws.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mdc&AN=15113714&site=eds-live

Grotto, D., & Zied, E. (2010). The standard American diet and its relationship to the health status of Americans. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 25(6), 603-612.

Henson, S., Blandon, J., & Cranfield, J. (2010). Difficulty of healthy eating: A Rasch model approach. Social Science & Medicine, 701574-1580. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.01.037

Hyman, M. (2006). Clinical approaches to environmental inputs. In D.S. Jones & S. Quinn (Eds.) Textbook of functional medicine. (347-388). Gig Harbor: Institute for Functional Medicine.

Rice J.L., Romero K.M., Galvez Davilla R., Tarazona Meza C., Bilderback A., Williams D.L., … Hansel N.N. (2015). Association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and asthma in Peruvian children. Lung. doi: 10.1007/s00408-015-9792-9.

Sanchez-Villegas, A., Henriquez, P., Bes-Rastrollo, M., & Doreste, J. (2006). Mediterranean diet and depression. Public Health Nutrition, 1104-1109.

Santomauro, F., Lorini, C., Tanini, T., Indiani, L., Lastrucci, V., Comodo, N., & Bonaccorsi, G. (2014). Adherence to mediterranean diet in a sample of tuscan adolescents. Nutrition, 30(11), 1379-1383 5p. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2014.04.008

Schwingshackl, L., & Hoffmann, G. (2015). Adherence to Mediterranean diet and risk of cancer: an updated systematic review and meta‐analysis of observational studies. Cancer medicine. (Printed online before publication), doi: 10.1002/cam4.539

Velazquez-Lopez R., Santiago-Diaz G., Nava-Hernandez J., Munoz-Torres A.V., Medina-Bravo P., & Torres-Tamayo M. (2014). Mediterranean-style diet reduces metabolic syndrome components in obese children and adolescents with obesity. BMC Pediatrics, 14 (175). doi: 10.1186/1471-2431-14-175

Yates, B. C., Pullen, C. H., Santo, J. B., Boeckner, L., Hageman, P. A., Dizona, P. J., & Walker, S. N. (2012). The influence of cognitive-perceptual variables on patterns of change over time in rural midlife and older women’s healthy eating. Social Science & Medicine, 75 (Part Special Issue: Challenges to changing health behaviours in developing countries), 659-667. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.01.001

 Zazpe, I., Sanchez-Tainta, A., Estruch, R., Lamuela-Raventos, R., Schröder, H., Salas-Salvado, J., . . . Martinez-Gonzalez, M. (2008). A Large Randomized Individual and Group Intervention Conducted by Registered Dietitians Increased Adherence to Mediterranean-Type Diets: The PREDIMED Study. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(7), 1134-1144. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2008.04.011

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