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The philosophy and the values of the Mediterranean diet for prevention and longevity

By Antigoni Papaioannou, Uppsala University

 

The Mediterranean diet (MD) is widely- known to the majority of the population as a well- balanced diet for losing weight and keep one’s body in form and shape. However, MD offers a variety of benefits with more profound values to someone’s health status. MD can be adequate as an advantageous method of prevention for different diseases and can have an important role for the longevity. How the MD can be the secret for longevity and healthy life? And lastly, for which diseases is MD effective as prevention?

The MD is originated from countries of the Mediterranean basin, specifically from Greece and South Italy. (1) Through the passage of years, other countries started to adopt the MD model by combining their nutritional habits into the key elements of this diet. (1) In the 70s, the American scientist Ancel Keys was the first to observe the health benefits of the MD. Beside of promoting health and well-being, the MD had found to be closely associated with the avoidance of cardiovascular diseases due to reduced exposure to risk factors such as trans-fat and foods with high cholesterol rate intake. (1) Several studies followed in order to estimate and identify the health benefits of a MD to numerous other diseases; mostly chronic diseases and mental disorders (i.e. inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, dementia and depression). (2-8)

 

Ratatouille, a popular mediterranean stewed vegetable dish

 

What does the MD the perfect diet? The answer is quite simple and obvious; its features. The MD consists of olive oil- the central element of the dietary- vegetables, legumes, whole grain cereals, fruits, seafood in a medium consumption and a low consumption of meats and sweets. (1,2,4) The most important components of this diet are the fresh food sources and the plain but tasteful variety of meals. Those two characteristics are enough to provide a balanced diet which boost up one’s metabolism and health and simultaneously helps with weight loss. (1,2) Since 400BC, the Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) has been used as a remedy for treating a variety of diseases and injuries. (2) EVOO is rich with monon- saturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyphenols. (2,4) Its chemical components are glycerol fractions and phenolic compounds; 90-99% and 0,4-0,5% respectively. It is scientifically proven that phenolic compounds have high bioavailability which can have positive impacts on platelet and cellular function, antimicrobial activity and bone health. (2,6) In combination with the anti- inflammatory effects of polyphenols, the consumption of EVOO can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases (CVD), metabolic syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). It can also contribute to the prevention of breast cancer, colorectal cancer and inflammation symptoms. (5,6)

 

Key elements to the Mediterranean diet are olive oil and fresh food sources

 

However, the MD does not include only EVOO, but also other essential fats such as n-3 and n-6 fatty acids which can be found in nuts, fishes and some vegetables. (2,5,6) It is proven that n-3 and n-6 fatty acids act as a shield against arrhythmia, diabetes, hypertension and stroke due to the high amount of a- linoleic acid and the long chain polyunsaturated fats. In addition, fruits and vegetables are high in fibers which have shown to have antioxidant and anti- inflammatory effects. High fiber intake is associated with reduced risk of colorectal cancer and developing of adenomas and insulin resistance. More specific, the consumption of tomatoes and carrots has a significant protective role against breast, colon, lung, skin and prostate cancer. (2-5) This advantage is due to the presence of vitamin C, lycopene, flavonoids, biotin, vitamin K, niacin and other antioxidant components. (2,6)

Another important aspect of the MD is the noteworthy role in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases; including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. It has been found that the MD can protect the brain from aging and reduce the risk of degenerative diseases by approximately 10%. (2,7,8) EVOO, fish oil and moderate wine consumption are the MD eating patterns which provide such unique benefits on health. For instance, EVOO can influence positively the learning and synaptic functions due to the existence of secoiridoid polyphenols in the EVOO. This derivative is capable to increase the levels of acetylated histone- 4 at lysine- 5 in the brain. The oleuropein aglycone can namely contribute to the prevention of some agitations in gene expression and thereby the prevention of neurological diseases. (3,5,7,8)

Finally, the MD has a remarkable beneficial effect on the reduction of mortality from all causes. Although that can be applicable mostly for individuals who adhere to the eating patterns of MD. Several studies have shown that high adherence to the MD can lead up to a 17-25% reduction in all cause mortality. (3,4,5,9) Even a moderate adherence to the MD can reach a satisfactory level of 7-11% of the protective effects. (9)

A diet alone cannot provide the most optimal health benefits, but if combined with an adequate physical activity, it can be a lifesaving choice. The MD recommends a moderate physical exercise in daily basis which will help to promote and maintain wellness and strengthen the already significant health benefits of the dietary pattern of MD. (1,2,3,4) Hence, the MD has a balanced dietary pattern that combines the health effects of various food groups and includes each group in a different consumption rate according to the beneficial characteristics. Even alcohol is used in form of red wine and its consumption is as much as needed to give all the benefits without harming one’s health. The MD has a wide variety, incredible combination and many delicious recipes without burdening neither health or weight. It can reasonably be considered that adherence to the MD is the key to a healthy and longer life. Only one question remains to be answered: if the MD is the secret for longevity and prevention of many diseases why is it not used in a larger scale and in the population at risk?

 

 

References:

  1. Roberta Altomare, Francesco Cacciabaudo, Giuseppe Damiano, VincenzoDavide Palumbo, Maria Concetta Gioviale, Maurizio Bellavia, Giovanni Tomasello, Attilio Ignazio Lo Monte. The Mediterranean Diet: A history of health. Iranian Journal of Public Health.2013;42(5):449-457
  2. Stephanie Maxine Ross. The traditional Mediterranean Diet: an ancient prescription for health and longevity. Holistic Nursing Practice. 2015;29(3)
  3. Francesco Sofi, Claudio Macchi, Rosanna Abbate, Gian Franco Gensini, Alessandro Casini. Review Article: Mediterranean diet and Health. International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.2013;39(4):335-342
  4. Miguel A. Martinez- Gonzalez, Nerea Martin- Calvo. Mediterranean diet and life expectancy; beyong olive oil, fruits, and vegetables. Wolters Kluwer Health. 2016;19(6):401-407
  5. Donato F. Romagnolo, Ornella I. Selmin. Mediterranean Diet and Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Wolters Kluwer Health. 2017;52(5):208-222
  6. Pelin Meryem, Sert Havva. Mediterranean Diet in Prevention of Chronic Diseases. International Journal of Medical Research & Health Sciences. 2017;6(7):36-39
  7. Theodora Psaltopoulou, Theodoros N. Sergentanis, Demosthenes B. Panagiotakos, Ioannis N. Sergentanis, Rena Kosti, Nikolaos Scarmeas. Mediterranean Diet, Stroke, Cognitive, Impairment, and Depression: a meta-analysis. Neurological Association. 2013;74(4):580-592
  8. Rachelle Sara Opie, Robin A. Ralston, Karen Z. Walker. Adherence to a Mediterranean- style diet can slow the rate of cognitive decline and decrease the risk of dementia: a systematic review. Nutrition and Dietetics. 2013;70:206-217.
  9. Genevieve Buckland, Anotnio Agudo, Noemie Travier, José María Huerta, Luis Cicera, María- José Tormo, Carmen Navarro, María Dolores Chirlaque, Conchi Morelo- Iribas, Eva Ardanaz, Aurelio Barricarte, Jaione Etxeberria, Pilar Marin, J. Ramón Quirós, María- Luisa Redondo, Nerea Larranaga, Pilar Amiano, Miren Dorronsoro, Larraitz Arriola, Mikel Basterretxea, María- José Sanchez, Esther Molina, Carlos A. González. Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet reduces mortality in the Spanish cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Spain). British Journal of Nutrition. 2011;106:1581-1591.

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