Should we all go on the Mediterranean diet?

Eat like the Greeks, Spaniards and Italians to live a healthy long life. That is the promise of proponents of the Mediterranean diet, one of the most highly recommended dietary programs sweeping the world today.

As a relatively new nutritional prescription, the diet is inspired by traditional food consumption practices from Greece, Spain and Southern Italy. The main structure of the diet is: high consumption of olive oil, legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits, and vegetables; moderate to high consumption of fish; moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly cheese and yogurt), and wine; and low consumption of non-fish meat and non-fish meat products. It is also important to avoid sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils and other highly processed foods.

Fruits and vegetables commonly consumed are apples, bananas, oranges, pears, strawberries, grapes, dates, figs, melons, peaches, tomatoes, broccoli, kale, spinach, onions, cauliflower, carrots, Brussels sprouts and cucumbers. Nuts (almonds, walnuts, Macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds) and legumes (beans, peas, lentils, pulses, peanuts and chickpeas) are on the priority list as well.

The Mediterranean diet often is praised for being low in saturated fat, and high in monounsaturated fat and dietary fiber. The high levels of olive oil intake is said to play a major role in the health aspect of the diet. And several studies are backing up this claim.

According to research on the “effect of a long-term dietary intervention on breast cancer incidence” published last month on JAMA Internal Medicine, “results suggest a beneficial effect of a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil in the primary prevention of breast cancer.” The researchers found that the diet, customized with even higher extra-virgin olive oil intake, may lower the risk of breast cancer by 68 percent over the course of 4.8 years.

Meanwhile, a 10-year study suggests that the diet affects the brain positively.

“The study included 15,000 people who participated in the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra (SUN) Project... [They] completed questionnaires at the start of the study and then every two years during the 10-year study period,” Forbes reports. “After controlling for other factors, the results showed that the Mediterranean diet and the [pro-vegetarian dietary pattern] Alternative Health Eating Index-2010 were associated with the greatest reduction of depression risk.”

Separate investigations on the diet’s effects on age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy – both eye conditions – have yielded positive results as well.


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