Editor's Note: The following article is about the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. If you don't live in one of the Mediterranean countries, then it may be a challenge to follow the Mediterranean diet (MD) as a means to lose weight. However, there are other great alternatives. One of them is the Nutrisystem diet, offered by a company in the US. Like the MD, Nutrisystem encourages consumption of "good" carbs from whole grains and vegetables. Also, like the MD, Nutrisystem is based on the Glycemic Index. That means, you eat foods that do not raise the blood sugar too much. Learn the interesting facts about Nutrisystem and see if it's for you.

Many studies have been conducted by scientists on the diets of various regions of our planet and their health benefits. One of those studies, by Dr. Perez-Lopez, has shown that people who follow a Mediterranean Diet enjoy longer lives.

The ancient Greeks’ diet was made up of foods low in fat and rich in carbohydrates. Because of this diet, Greeks live longer lives, and exhibit lower rates of cancer, age-related diseases and heart disease.

For this reason, the Mediterranean Diet has become very popular with many people adopting this diet model. This model is based on the diets of Crete as well as Cyprus, Spain, Portugal, Southern Italy and Turkey.

The Mediterranean region has been my home for most of my life. So, I’ve had a chance to observe and study this diet closely. So, I decided to summarize some of the latest scientific studies on the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet, hoping that some of you may find it helpful.

The Mediterranean Diet Prolongs Life

Several studies have shown that the MD results in a longer and healthier life. Take for instance, the study conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) in 1995. Half a million AARP members’ diets were studied for ten years. The conclusion of the study was that people whose diets were similar to the MD showed 20% lesser chances of suffering from cancer, heart disease or any other major sickness.

Another study revealed that 24% of Australia’s citizens with Mediterranean ancestry did not suffer from or die due to heart disease.

EPIC, an organization that studies Cancer and Nutrition, did a study and concluded that 60-year-old adults who followed the MD live a year longer than those who don’t.

The Mediterranean Diet guards against METS (Metabolic Syndrome)

A person suffers from METS if he has at least three of the following 5 conditions:

  • A waistline that exceeds 83 cms.
  • Blood pressure levels above 130/85
  • Lower levels of good cholesterol (<50mg/dL)
  • Increased levels of body fat (>150mg/dL)
  • Increased glucose levels in your blood after fasting overnight (>110mg/dL)

A 6-year study of over 2000 healthy adults was conducted in Spain. The results showed that those who followed a MD had lower chances of suffering from METS.

Another study conducted in Greece also showed that eating more fruits, vegetables, cereals, legumes and fish reduces the chances of METS. Those who ate more meat and drank more alcohol increased their risks of METS.

MD prevents Hypertension

Your diet and your weight determine your blood pressure. Eating more fruits and vegetables instead of meat and fatty foods lowers blood pressure. This also helps you lose weight which also reduces your blood pressure.
This fact was proved by a study conducted by EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition). It showed that a Mediterranean Diet, including olive oil reduces blood pressure.

MD helps prevent heart disease

Heart Disease can be caused due to heredity as well as environmental factors. But a healthy diet can correct this predisposition. This has been proved by several studies.

In one study covering 5 countries in Europe and over 900 elderly but healthy adults (over 60 years of age), it was found that countries that stuck to a MD (such as Italy) showed a significant benefit in terms of lower Body Mass Indexes (BMIs), lower inflammation rates, and higher levels of good cholesterol.

Another study by Barzi et al revealed that eating fish, vegetables, fruit and olive oil helped reduce the risk of death to the 11,323 Italians that were studied.

MD helps shed extra weight

Being obese automatically increases your risk of developing METS and heart disease which could result in death. You put on weight when you eat fatty food and consume more meat and alcohol.

A study carried out in north-east Spain showed that both men and women lost weight by following a MD. This also reduced their risk of heart disease.

A similar study in Greece observed obese and overweight individuals eating a MD and found that the benefits included lower cholesterol, blood pressure and even lesser insulin sensitivity.

Healthy people who follow a MD avoid weight gain as well, according to a study conducted by Mendez et al. They studied almost 28,000 men and women who weren’t overweight or obese and adhered to a MD.

 

MD prevents Cancer

A Mediterranean Diet includes fish, whole grains, vegetables (including tomatoes), fruits and olive oil. Several studies show that all these dietary ingredients contain cancer-fighting properties. The Lycopene in tomatoes, polyphenols in Olive oil, etc, reduce our risk of developing malignant tumors.  In contrast, diets high in sugar, fats and meat increase the risk of cancer.

A study showed that olive oil alone has the capacity to lower the risk of cancer by 9%. The more the participants adhered to the MD, the lower their risk of cancer dropped.

MD fights Rheumatoid Arthritis

Data shows that the eating of fruits and grains can have a significant influence on the metabolism of bones. This could be the reason why people in Mediterranean countries have low rates of Osteoporosis.

Appel et al conducted a study in which participants increased their consumption of grains and fruit from 3.6 servings to 9.5. This resulted in a reduction in the loss of calcium through the kidneys.

Such MD ingredients like beans, lentils and chickpeas are high in phytoestrogen which protect and strengthen the bones.

The most beneficial components of a Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Diet discussed here is a mix of several diets consumed in the Mediterranean. The main components include olive oil, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes as well as fish, yoghurt, nuts and wine. All of these have contributed towards longer lives. That’s why scientists have studied it to determine the most important components and their benefits.

  • Olive Oil:  This is a prime ingredient and has several benefits. It is rich in Mono-Unsaturated Fatty Acids, carotenes, phenols and antioxidant properties. These contribute towards a healthy heart, lower blood pressure and cancer prevention.

  • Vegetables and fruit: Fiber, Vitamins, flavonoids and antioxidant properties are found in fruits and vegetables (especially tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, etc). These together maintain general health and also protect the body from heart disease and cancer.

  • Fish: Fish such as anchovies and sardines are commonly consumed by Mediterranean people. These fish have a high content of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats that not only keep the heart healthy but also fight Alzheimer’s.

  • Wine: Men and women in the Mediterranean consume Red wine on a daily basis. Men drink about two glasses and women one. This moderate consumption has been proved to have many benefits to the heart. The French Paradox is a term that refers to the low levels of heart disease in people who consume wine moderately even when they eat more saturated fats.

  • Nuts: Rich in mono and poly unsaturated fats, nuts play a significant role in maintaining a healthy heart and preventing cardiovascular disease. In a study people with METS were given 30g of mixed nuts for a year. The end result was a lower rate of prevalence even though their body weight didn’t change. Their waist sizes also decreased.

Conclusion

Those wishing to lengthen their life-span and lead healthy and active lives in their old age can benefit immensely by following the Mediterranean Diet. Doing this for 10 years can lower your risk of death by 20% according Dr. Lopez-Perez.

Results, however, are dependent on following the diet in its entirety instead of just picking one or two elements such as olive oil and tomatoes and including them into your current unhealthy diet pattern.

References:

Study 1. Weight loss with a modified Mediterranean-type diet using fat modification

Study 2. Effects of Mediterranean-style diet on glycemic control, weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors among type 2 diabetes individuals: a meta-analysis