How the Mediterranean Diet Fights Disease

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Rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes and fish, with little red meat, and with most fat being monounsaturated and coming from olive oil and nuts, the Mediterranean diet has been promoted as one of the healthiest ways to eat. It also encompasses a vibrant way of living — cooking at home, enjoying family meals and being active.

In fact, the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) identified the Mediterranean diet as one that Americans can follow to improve their health.

While the Mediterranean diet is practiced in many parts of the world, it is not necessarily followed in all Mediterranean countries. For example, in some parts of France, Spain and Italy, there is a high consumption of saturated fat (from butter, cheese and cold meats). And, modern lifestyles have made the Western diet (full of saturated fat, sugary drinks and processed foods; and inadequate consumption of fruits, vegetables and nuts) more common in many Mediterranean regions.

We all face the challenges of reducing our consumption of highly processed foods and maximizing our consumption of plant-based foods.

The Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Because it’s a dietary pattern rich in antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, the Mediterranean diet may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, certain cancers, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. More specifically, here is how it fights disease:

  • Cardiovascular Health
    A Spanish study concluded that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events. The results of this study are all over the DGAC report.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
    A study published in the Journal of Prevention of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2014 showed that normal individuals showing lower adherence to the Mediterranean diet had cortical thinning in the same brain regions as clinical Alzheimer’s disease patients. These data indicate that the Mediterranean diet may have a protective quality against brain tissue loss.
  • Agility and Healthy Aging
    A Spanish prospective cohort study (published in 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association) with 1,815 community-dwelling individuals concluded that an increased adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with decreased risks of frailty and muscle weakness, which are important factors for healthy aging.
  • Life Expectancy
    As cancer and heart disease are reduced by a Mediterranean dietary pattern, there is a 20-percent reduced risk of death at any age.

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Romina Barritta de Defranchi
Romina Barritta, DTR, is a dietitian based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She runs GlobalDietitians.com, a networking site for food and nutrition professionals from around the world. She is Board member of the International Affiliate of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (IAAND). Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.