The Latest On The Mediterranean Diet: Studies And Recent Findings

Photo by Daria Shevtsova

The Mediterranean diet…new reasons to stick with one of the healthiest ways to eat.

The Mediterranean diet has long been associated with health and wellness and recommended for the prevention of nutrition-related diseases.  It was inspired by the eating habits of those living in Spain, Greece, and Italy over 50 years ago. The Mediterranean diet is based on a diet high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olives, and olive oils. While it is not a meatless diet, the emphasis is on plants, fish, and poultry with low consumption of added sugar and red meat.

The Mediterranean diet really encompasses a “lifestyle” which in addition to diet, includes regular exercise, low stress, and moderate amounts of red wine. People who live in the Mediterranean area have a lower incidence of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Studies support this is a relationship to their diet and lifestyle and have linked the Mediterranean diet to reduce the incidence of these and other diseases.

Current research shows new benefits of the Mediterranean diet, such as:

  • Improving gut health
  • Reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
  • Improving Bone health
  • Reducing symptoms of depression
  • Increasing longevity

Gut health

Our gut contains microorganisms, bacteria, and other materials known as our gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome is essential for a well- functioning gastrointestinal tract. An imbalance in these microorganisms has been linked to conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

New research supports the Mediterranean diet’s role in improving gut health. A group of 612 elderly adults, in five European countries, were administered a Mediterranean diet over a 12-month period. An analysis of their gut microbiome showed beneficial changes including an increase in important short-chained fatty acids and a lowered production of harmful bile acids.

In another study, experts found diets rich in legumes, fish, nuts, and red wine was associated with higher levels of healthy gut bacteria, while a diet of meat and refined sugars produced unhealthy inflammation.

The foundation of the Mediterranean diet includes lots of vegetables, fruits, fish, and plant proteins such as legumes and nuts, while red meat and processed foods are discouraged

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is an eye disease that blurs eyesight near the center of vision. It is a common condition in those over 50 and usually occurs slowly over time. The risk of developing AMD increases with family history, smoking, and high blood pressure.

The Latest On The Mediterranean Diet: Studies And Recent Findings, eyesight going bad
Photo by Anna Shvets

New research points to the link between the Mediterranean diet and risk for AMD. In one study, participants with an average age of 71, began the study with no AMD. Based on food questionnaires, those with the closest adherence to the Mediterranean diet had a lower incidence of AMD. Fish intake was credited with the protective role.

The Mediterranean diet encourages fish intake, particularly oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, albacore, and tuna. Fish should be included twice a week or more.

Bone Health

Bones give our body support and allow us to use our muscles to move.  They store and supply calcium to our cells and provide protection for our vital organs. With age, bone density decreases, and with that comes an increased risk of falls and fractures.  New research suggests a link between the Mediterranean diet and bone health.

In a study published in Nutrients 2020,  participants aged 39-79 who closely adhered to the Mediterranean diet (based on food diaries) had 23% fewer fractures and 21% fewer hip fractures compared to those with lower dietary compliance. This was evident more in women than men and was independent of age.

In another study, participants between the ages of 65 and 79 were encouraged to adhere to the Mediterranean diet by using olive oil and increasing their intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and fish. Bone density measurements showed those with osteoporosis at the start, had an increase in bone density in the femoral neck or hip joint after 12 months on the diet. Those with normal bone density did not see an appreciable change.

Depression

Depression is a mood disorder. It can cause a persistent state of sadness. Some people suffering from depression lose interest in things they used to enjoy. These feelings can affect activities of daily living and appetite, among others. Symptoms can vary from mild to extreme and may lead to withdrawal from friends and family Some antidepressant medications work to improve serotonin and norepinephrine levels in your brain.   Others work to balance neurotransmitters or adjust dopamine levels.

New research suggests adhering to the Mediterranean diet may reduce depression, with its high Vitamin B content playing a protective role.     In this study, 412 adults aged 60-64 were assessed for depressive symptoms. Blood samples were obtained for B12 and folic acid levels. Results found a relationship between low folic acid levels and increased symptoms of depression. Foods high in folic acid such as legumes, brussels sprouts, spinach, asparagus, avocado, beets, and broccoli are staples of the Mediterranean diet.

Other studies looked at the effects of polyphenols on symptoms of depression. Multiple sources of polyphenols including tea, citrus, nuts, soy, legumes, and grapes were included. Results found a positive relationship between polyphenol intake and depression risk and suggest polyphenols can reduce depressive symptoms. The Mediterranean diet includes foods rich in polyphenols such as berries, beans, nuts, soy, dark chocolate, and red wine.

Longevity

As our population ages, more and more attention is paid to staying healthy longer. There has been a lot of interest in the Blue Zones where people are consistently living over 100 years old.

There are 5 such areas around the world, and research has found residents in these areas share similar characteristics including being active, taking time to relax, eating smaller meals later in the day, drinking wine 1-2 glasses per day, belonging to faith-based communities and following a plant-based diet.

The Latest On The Mediterranean Diet: Studies And Recent Findings, old couple longevity
Photo by Tristan Le

The emphasis of their diets is similar to the Mediterranean diet with lots of beans, legumes, fruits, and leafy green vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil. Meat is eaten in small amounts and only about once per week.  In some blue zones, fish is eaten on average two to three times per week and small amounts of sheep or goat’s milk may be drank or fermented into yogurt.

To sum up…reasons to follow the Mediterranean diet keep growing. What we eat profoundly affects every aspect of our health. Research continues to support the benefits of a more plant-based way of eating and evidence points towards improved health and decreased obesity as a result of reducing our intake of animal products, fats, and sugars.

But we should not forget the lifestyle that augments the Mediterranean diet. Getting up and moving is essential to staying healthy. Exercise adds to bone health. It helps improve mood, thereby lessening depression. Being active also helps to lower our stress levels which is a key factor in the blue zone. A glass of wine is an added benefit!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Stay up to date with content and updates from Trusted Nutrition