The Mediterranean Diet Health Benefits

Quite frankly, there’s a lot of evidence supporting the Mediterranean Diet to be incredibly beneficial to our health. This is by no means all of the studies that have shown this diets health boosting effects.

Quick Summary

Benefits from consuming a Mediterranean Diet:

  • Improved biomarkers of inflammation (R)

  • Decreased oxidative stress (R)

  • Decreased adipokine production (R)

  • Decreased prothrombotic state (R)

  • Decreased blood pressure (R)

  • Reduced risk of myocardial infarction (R)

  • Reduced risk of stroke (R)

  • Improved blood glucose parameters (R)

    • Decreased fasting glucose (R)

    • Improved glycemic control (R)

    • Improved insulin sensitivity (R)

    • Lower HbA1c levels (R)

  • Improved lipid profile; reduced LDL and triglycerides, increased HDL (R)

  • Lipoproteins become less atherogenic (R)

  • Decreased C reactive protein (CRP) (R)

  • Decreased interleukin-6 (IL-6) (R)

  • Decreased oxidized LDL (oxLDL) (R)

  • Higher levels of plasma antioxidant capacity (R)

  • Lower incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD), metabolic disorders, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease (R)

  • Decreased risk of cancer (R)

    • Decreased risk of colorectal cancer (R)

    • Decrease risk of prostate cancer (R)

  • Increase of good bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus (R)

  • Decreased protein glycation (R)

  • Reduced cognitive decline and depression

  • Reduced levels of IL-7 and IL-18 (R)

  • Decreased symptoms, inflammation, and normalized gut bacteria in patients with Crohn's disease (R)

  • Decreased immune cell activation and inflammatory biomarkers of atherogenesis (R)

  • Improved symptoms in patients with arthritis (R)

 

How To Eat a Mediterranean Diet

 

  • Use extra virgin olive oil in place of butter; in fact, use olive oil in place of all other cooking oils and fats when possible

  • Focus more on plant based foods, including whole grains ,and load up on fruits and vegetables

  • Consume fish as a stable protein source once or twice a week

  • Snack on fruits and nuts

  • Eat some legumes

  • Consume 1 or 2 glasses of red wine a day if you must (low/moderate consumption)

  • Eat a little red meat, but not much (a few times a month)

  • Eat poultry, dairy, and eggs in moderation (few times a week)

  • Avoid refined grains, butter, cream, lard, and sweets

 

In-Depth Look

Lowers Cardiovascular Risk

Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in the world. Diet has the ability to modulate inflammation, which is an important factor to consider when assessing risk. The American or Western Diet is associated with increased inflammation and other markers of CVD risk. On the other hand, the Mediterranean Diet is associated with lower levels of inflammation and risk of CVD. (R)

The benefits of the Mediterranean Diet include improved biomarkers of inflammation, oxidation, adipokine production, and prothrombotic state. Blood pressure, oxidative stress, blood lipid profiles, weight, and management of diabetes are also used to assess CVD risk. An important randomized controlled trial known as the PREDIMED study, consisted of looking at the effects of the Mediterranean Diet on cardiovascular disease incidence by placing participants into one of three diets:  Mediterranean Diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil, Mediterranean Diet supplemented with nuts, and a control diet consisting of a low-fat diet.

The two Mediterranean Diet groups had decreased blood pressure, improved glucose and lipid parameters, lipoproteins were less atherogenenic, decrease oxidized LDL, decreased inflammatory marker C reactive protein (CRP), decreased inflammatory cytokine interleukin-6 (IL-6), and all occurred just after three months of following the diet. Decreased oxidized LDL (oxLDL) is especially important in reducing CVD risk because oxLDL plays a key role in atherosclerosis, and atherosclerosis is a major cause of CVD. Also, the two Mediterranean Diet groups did not have significant weight gain over 4.8 years compared to the control group. The Mediterranean Diet group consuming more extra virgin olive oil did have higher levels of plasma antioxidant capacity. Simply put, the control group didn't do so well.  They actually gained weight, and had increased inflammatory cytokine IL-6. (R)

The Mediterranean Diet has also been shown to improve triglycerides and total cholesterol in chronic renal failure patients, reduce LDL cholesterol, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, coagulation markers, increase HDL cholesterol, and decreased fasting glucose. (R)

 

Improves Diabetes Management

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death. The increased incidence of diabetes is associated with the American diet; no surprise. The Mediterranean Diet improves glycemic control and insulin sensitivity in patients with type-2 diabetes better than control diets (low-fat/usual dietary habits). It has been shown to lower HbA1c in postmenopausal diabetic women, lower fasting glucose, and lower oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is associated with decreased beta cell function and increased insulin resistance.  Beta cells are the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which is needed to lower blood glucose levels by helping glucose get into cells where it is needed. Damage to beta cells is detrimental to the bodies ability to control blood glucose levels. By lowering oxidative stress, beta cells will take on less damage and function better. (R)

 

Protects Against Cancer

This diet lowers the risk of many different cancers, including colorectal (R) and prostate cancer (R).

 

Lowers Inflammation

The polyphenols from olive oil and red wine (resveratrol) inhibits cyclooxygenase 1 and 2 (COX-1 and COX-2), as well as lipoxigenase (LOX).  COX-1, COX-2, and LOX are enzymes which produce inflammatory prostaglandins and leukotrienes. Consuming olive oil and red wine helps to decrease inflammation. (Side note: ibuprofen inhibits COX-1 and COX-2, which decreases inflammation and pain.) Quercetin is the most abundantly natural flavonoid present in fruit and vegetables, which also has anti-inflammatory effects. The Mediterranean Diet contains many flavonoids like quercetin. High fiber intakes prevent blood sugar spikes and rapid insulin release, which also helps to lower oxidative stress, inflammation, protein glycation, and blood coagulation. Protein glycation is when sugar (glucose or fructose) binds to a protein, which adversely affects the function of the protein.  This is a bad thing. Also, a higher omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is associated with decreased risk of cancer.  Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and omega-6s are more pro-inflammatory. (R) The Mediterreanean diet also reduces inflammation without weight loss. When weight loss does occur, it further reduces inflammation. (R)

 

Helps Those With Crohn's Disease

One study found that Crohn's disease patients who were places on a Mediterranean inspired diet reduced markers of inflammation, and normalized gut bacteria just after 6 weeks (R)

 

Improves Cognitive Decline

A recent review found that the Mediterranean Diet reduces cognitive decline, depression, and risk of Alzheimer's disease (R), mostly by means already discussed.

 

What Makes The Mediterranean Diet Healthy?

The health boosting effects come from carotenoids, folate, fiber, vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, omega-3s in fish, monounsaturated fatty acids and the phytochemicals in olive oil, and the lactic acid bacteria in cheese and yogurt for probiotics and improve gastrointestinal motility.  The garlic and onions contain allicin, which is a powerful compound and might help with cognitive function, and the herbs and spices used contain flavonoids. (R)

Moderate consumption of wine is common. Wine contains polyphenols, and is beneficial due to its ability to improve lipoprotein profiles, platelet aggregation, oxidative mechanisms and endothelial function. Red wine contains resveratrol, and moderate intakes of red wine increases nitric oxide (NO) production; which is good for the heart. (R)

 

So, there you have it folks. I stopped researching after a while because I found enough evidence already to support that this diet truly is quite good. If you're looking for a diet to follow or some kind of guide as to what you should be eating, the Mediterranean Diet is definitely a good one follow.