Tag Archives: mediterranean diet

Green Mediterranean diet may be even better for losing weight than regular Mediterranean

In recent years, the Mediterranean diet has emerged as one of the healthier eating patterns out there. Now, a new study suggests that the ‘green’ Med diet (which features even more plant-based foods) may be even better for health than the traditional Mediterranean diet.

Some of the core foods of the Mediterranean diet. Image credits: G. Steph / Wikipedia.

It’s not exactly a diet in the strict sense — it’s rather a set of eating habits inspired by Mediterranean countries like Spain, Italy, or Greece. The diet can’t be strict because there’s no one single ‘Mediterranean’ way of eating — it varies from country to country and even from area to area. Some even argue that it’s not only about what you eat, but also about how you eat.

The general idea, however, is that you’re supposed to eat a lot of plant foods: fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, beans, whole cereals and grains. When or if you do eat meat, it’s fish and maybe chicken — red meat doesn’t have a central spot in the Mediterranean diet.

Although scientists are still debating just how good the Mediterranean diet is, most studies seem to suggest that it’s quite healthy. A 2017 review of studies found evidence that practicing a Mediterranean diet could lead to a decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases, overall cancer incidence, neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, and early death. Another 2018 review echoed the findings, reporting that the Mediterranean diet may improve overall health status.

Now, a new study reports that, when it comes to weight loss at least, the ‘green sister’ of the Mediterranean may hold even more benefits.

Fiber, healthy fats, and polyphenols, are thought to be the key to the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. In a new study, researchers wanted to see whether an even higher intake of these compounds (and an even lower red meat intake) is even better. They randomly assigned 294 sedentary and moderately obese people into three dietary groups:

  • the first group only received a guide on how to achieve a healthy diet and boost their physical activity;
  • the second group received the same guide, plus advice on following a calorie-restricted Mediterranean diet (1500-1800 kcal/day for men and 1200-1400 kcal/ day for women);
  • the third group received the same thing as the second group, but featuring a green version of the Mediterranean diet (the so-called green Med).

Specifically, the green Med diet included 28 g/day walnuts, 3-4 cups/day of green tea, an avoidance of red meat, and 100 g frozen cubes of Wolffia globosa (cultivated Mankai strain), a high protein form of the aquatic plant duckweed, to substitute animal protein.

After six months, the researchers checked up on the participants. All three groups lost weight, but the results were striking: the healthy diet participants (first group) lost 1.5 kg. The Mediterranean diet participants lost 5.4 kg. Lastly, the green Med participants lost 6.2 kg. Waist circumference also shrank by 4.3 cm, 6.8 cm, and 8.6 cm respectively. Similar drops were also observed for cholesterol.

It’s still a small-scale study, but the results warrant further investigation, researchers say.

“Education and encouragement to follow a green Med dietary pattern in conjunction with physical activity has the potential to be a major contributor to public health as it may improve balancing of cardiovascular risk factors, eventually preventing cardiovascular morbidity and mortality,” the authors note in the study.

The dietary results of the Mediterranean diet have not always been clear, as is often the case in nutritional studies. However, this could be at least in part owed to the many varieties of the Mediterranean diet. If many of the benefits come from a subset of Mediterranean foods, it could be worth exploring particular variants of the Mediterranean diet.

Ultimately though, both types of Mediterranean diet seem to offer significant advantages when it comes to weight loss. Reducing your calorie intake is obviously one of the first things that gets recommended for weight loss, but some diets make it easier than others — and are also healthier than others.

“Our findings suggest that additional restriction of meat intake with a parallel increase in plant-based, protein-rich foods, may further benefit the cardiometabolic state and reduce cardiovascular risk, beyond the known beneficial effects of the traditional Mediterranean diet,” the study concludes.

The study has been published in the British Medical Journal.

The Mediterranean diet can lead to better cognitive function, studies show

If you’re looking for a heart-healthy eating plan, the Mediterranean diet is probably a good fit, blending the basics of healthy eating with the traditional flavors and cooking methods of the Mediterranean.

Credit Flickr

Two new studies recently took a closer look at the diet, discovering that those who closely follow it can reduce their risk of cognitive impairment by half by taking advantage of the diet’s strong emphasis on vegetables, whole grains, fish, and olive oil.

“People with the higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet had almost a 45% to 50% reduction in the risk of having an impaired cognitive function,” said lead author Dr. Emily Chew, who directs the Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications (DECA) at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

Closely following the diet was defined as eating fish twice a week and regularly consuming fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and olive oil while reducing consumption of red meat and alcohol. The risk for cognitive decline increased as the levels of adherence dropped, Chew said.

The Mediterranean diet didn’t appear to slow cognitive decline in people with the ApoE gene, which dramatically raises the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, Chew said. But when the study looked at just the levels of fish consumption, eating fish twice a week did slow the decline in people with the gene.

“In this study, while the Mediterranean diet overall decreased risk, the strongest factor to really move the needle was regular fish consumption,” said Dr. Richard Isaacson, who directs the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at New York-Presbyterian’s Weill Cornell Medicine Center.

Chew and her colleagues examined data previously collected by two massive clinical trials called AREDS and AREDS2. Both examined nutritional supplements as a potential treatment for age-related macular degeneration, a progressive eye disease causing blurred vision and vision loss.

These studies included information about the participants’ diet and assessed their cognitive function periodically over five- and ten-year periods, respectively. The researchers also asked participants to report how often they consumed nine components of the Mediterranean diet.

“The retina is an extension of the brain,” Chew said. “A third of your brain functions for vision and the retina lines the eyeball and travels back via an optic nerve all the way to the brain.” That’s why it made sense that any antioxidants which might improve the retina might also improve the brain,” she said.

The researchers’ new evaluation shows that participants who stuck closest to the Mediterranean diet had the lowest risk of cognitive impairment. Eating lots of fish and vegetables appeared to have the greatest protective effect. At the 10 year mark, participants with the highest fish consumption had the slowest rate of cognitive decline.

That’s because of two important antioxidants that are not naturally produced in the body: lutein and zeaxanthin. Responsible for the bright colors of vegetables, lutein and zeaxanthin are found in all vegetables, but especially good sources are green, leafy vegetables such as kale, parsley, spinach, broccoli, and peas.

Achieving some of these potential brain benefits doesn’t require a total diet overhaul. Radically changing what one eats is a complicated task, shaped by economic factors and social pressures, Chew points out. Instead of a total overhaul, she suggests making small changes.

The new studies, however large, are also observational, so more work is needed to definitively link this diet to cognitive preservation. Previous research has linked the diet to a wide array of benefits, from being good for heart disease to reducing the effects of air pollution.

The studies were published in the journal Annals of Neurology.

A healthy diet can help with depression, new study shows

Deppression is a common mental disorder, affecting more than 300 million people worldwide. The symptoms can vary in intensity, but it is different from usual mood fluctuations and short-lived emotional responses to challenges in everyday life. Although treatments for depression exist and they are usually safe and effective, less than half of people suffering from depression (and in many countries, less than 10%) seek any help with the condition.

However, it’s not just medical treatment that can have an impact on depression. There is strong epidemiological evidence that poor diet (rich in red meat and processed foods) is associated with depression. The reverse has also been shown: eating a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish, and lean meat, is associated with reduced risk of depression. There has only been one randomized controlled trial to test this hypothesis, however — until now.

Food vs depression

The new study assessed the potential of a healthy diet to reduce depression symptoms in young adults — one of the most at-risk groups when it comes to depression. Heather Francis from Macquarie University, Australia, and colleagues studied 76 university students (17-35 years old) exhibiting moderate-to-high depression symptoms. All the students had poor diets — rich in sugars, saturated fats, and processed foods.

The participants were randomly placed in one of two groups: a ‘business as usual’ group, and a ‘diet change’ group. The diet change group was given brief instructions on how to improve their diet, as well as a $60 voucher to spend on groceries. They also received two subsequent check-in phone calls. Meanwhile, the control group received nothing whatsoever and was told to return in three weeks.

The researchers assessed the participants for depression, anxiety, and overall mood, both before and after the intervention. They found that only 21% of the group stuck to the healthy diet changes, but all of those who did reported significant improvements in depression symptoms and overall mood.

There are several significant limitations to this study which should be mentioned. For starters, it’s a small sample size, and university students might not be representative of the entire young adult segment. Second, as most studies of this type, it relies on self-reported information — which may not be accurate (people are notoriously bad at recalling their diets). Lastly, in an ideal scenario, the control group would have also received an intervention, just one that didn’t really change their diet. This would help eliminate the possibility that it’s a change in the diet itself that’s accountable for the improvement — but the changes towards a healthier diet. In other words, there is a chance the mere fact that people were working on changing something might account for some of the improvement.

Nevertheless, the results seem to support previous findings, that a healthy diet can be a simple intervention to tackle depression. The researchers add:

“Modifying diet to reduce processed food intake and increase consumption of fruit, vegetables, fish and olive oil improved depression symptoms in young adults. These findings add to a growing literature showing a modest change to diet is a useful adjunct therapy to reduce symptoms of depression.”

However, this should not be interpreted as ‘all you need to get rid of depression is good food’ — depression is a serious mental condition and while a healthy diet can help, it is definitely not a panacea.

So what was the healthy food?

If you or someone else is struggling with depression, switching to healthier diets is one of the best things you can do. Here’s a rundown of what the healthy intervention in this study consisted of.

Medierranean food has been associated with significant health benefits.

The biggest shift is eating more servings of fruits and vegetables; on average, participants ate six more servings of fruit and vegetable per week, which is essentially just one serving per day. Researchers note that participants “who had a greater increase in fruit and vegetable intake showed the greatest improvement in depression symptoms” .

Eating more whole grains (and replacing white grains) was also an important shift. Protein from lean meats, poultry, eggs, tofu, and beans was also encouraged. In addition, they were also told to eat three servings of fish per week.

Regarding dairy, the recommendation was three small servings per day — but only unsweetened dairy. Participants were also instructed to consume three tablespoons of nuts and seeds per day and were advised to add spices in their food (such as turmeric and cinnamon).

This is pretty much the cookie-cutter Mediterranean diet: low in fats and meats, high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. This makes a lot of sense, particularly since a meta-analysis of 22 previously published studies showed that the Mediterranean diet was associated with a lower risk of depression — but also because the Mediterranean diet seems to be associated with an improvement in overall health.

This can be adapted with relative ease (for instance, to a vegetarian diet) and is not really strict. You can tweak it to your heart’s content, while sticking to the core principles.

The study was published in the journal PLoS.

Mediterranean diet may reduce negative effects of air pollution

Add one more thing to the already impressive list of benefits the Mediterranean diet offers: it helps your body fight air pollution.

Mediterranean diet may blunt air pollution’s ill health effects. Image credits: ATS.

The Mediterranean diet is not so much a diet as it is a lifestyle. It varies from one country to another so you might find it in various forms, but the general idea is: high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil, low in meat and dairy foods.

There is a hefty amount of research showing that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of developing conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and raised cholesterol, which are all risk factors for heart disease and cancer. The Mediterranean diet also seems to be associated with a longer and a healthier life. But, in this case, researchers wanted to look at something else.

They analyzed data from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)–American Association of Retired Persons Diet and Health Study. Over 17 years, the study followed 548,699 people (average age 62 at enrollment) from 6 states — California, North Carolina, New Jersey, Florida, Louisiana and Pennsylvania–and two cities–Atlanta and Detroit.

As expected, they found that an increase in different types of air pollution leads to a myriad of negative health effects. However, interestingly, they found that sticking to the Mediterranean diet seems to protect from these negative effects, something which researchers attribute to the high level of antioxidants in the preferred foods.

“Previous studies have shown that dietary changes, particularly the addition of antioxidants, can blunt the adverse effects of exposure to high levels of air pollution over short time periods,” said Chris C. Lim, MS, a doctoral student at the NYU School of Medicine. “What we did not know was whether diet can influence the association between long-term air pollution exposure and health effects.”

However, one thing which the diet doesn’t seem to impact is ozone, and researchers suspect that this happens because ozone affects the human body through a different mechanism.

“Given the benefits we found of a diet high in anti-oxidants, our results are consistent with the hypothesis that particle air pollution caused by fossil fuel combustion adversely affects health by inducing oxidative stress and inflammation,” said senior study author George Thurston, ScD, director of the Program in Exposure Assessment and Human Health Effects at the Department of Environmental Medicine, NYU School of Medicine. “On the other hand, the ozone effect was not significantly blunted by a Mediterranean diet, so ozone apparently affects cardiac health through a different mechanism.”

Results will be presented at the ATS 2018 International Conference.

Moderate Alcohol Consumption Could Actually Help Your Heart

A new study conducted by Harvard scientists concluded that moderate consumption of alcohol (moderate!) can lead to lower risk of heart failure. The study, which was conducted on over 14,000 men and women aged 45-64 found that a small drink every day is associated with a 20 percent lower risk of men developing heart failure and 16 percent reduced risk for women.

Image via Substance.com

Alcohol is generally regarded as unhealthy. However, alcohol has its benefits; in the Mediterranean diet, moderate consumption of red wine is indicated, and the Mediterranean diet is one of the best for the heart. Previous studies have also found that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with better memory later in life. This study found that alcohol itself can be good for the heart.

“The findings suggest that drinking alcohol in moderation does not contribute to an increased risk of heart failure and may even be protective,” said Scott Solomon, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and senior physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

A cocktail a day keeps the doctor away

The team defines “a drink” as one small (125ml) glass of wine, just over half a pint or a third of a litre of beer and less than one shot of liquor such as whisky or vodka. The participants in the study were divided into six categories:

  • abstainers
  • former drinkers, current abstainers
  • people who drink 1-7 drinks a week
  • people who drink 7-14 drinks a week
  • people who drink 14-21 drinks a week
  • people who drink over 21 drinks a week

During the study, almost 20 percent (1,271 men and 1,237 women) of participants developed heart failure. Out of those, the lowest rate of heart failures occurred in those drinking up to seven drinks per week and interestingly enough, the highest occurrence was in former drinkers. Men who drank between 1 and  7 drinks a week had a 20% reduced risk of developing heart failure compared to abstainers, while in the women, that risk was reduced by 14%.

A pint of beer a day might help your heart. Image via Cache Blog.

It’s quite possibly that the reason why former drinkers showed the highest rates of heart failure is that they had a medical reason to quite drinking in the first place. The sex difference seems statistically relevant, but it’s not yet clear why this happens.

“There are a number of different mechanisms by which the effects of alcohol on the heart may differ by sex,” write the researchers in their study. “Women have a higher proportion of body fat and absorb and metabolize alcohol differently than men, attaining higher blood alcohol concentrations for a given amount of alcohol consumed.”

The study was not raw, and scientists controlled, as much as possible, for other elements which may impact the results. They compensated for age, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or heart attacks, body mass index, cholesterol levels, physical activity, education and smoking,

“We did adjust our results to take account, as far as possible, for a variety of other lifestyle factors that could affect a person’s risk,” Solomon explained.

However, as we pointed out several times, correlation does not imply causation. The fact that moderate drinkers show a lower chance of heart failure does not necessarily mean that it’s the alcohol doing the good.

“It is important to bear in mind that our study shows there is an association between drinking moderate amounts of alcohol and a lower risk of heart failure but this does not necessarily mean that moderate alcohol consumption causes the lowered risk, although we did adjust our results to take account, as far as possible, for a variety of other lifestyle factors that could affect a person’s risk.”

Journal Reference:

  1. A. Goncalves, B. Claggett, P. S. Jhund, W. Rosamond, A. Deswal, D. Aguilar, A. M. Shah, S. Cheng, S. D. Solomon. Alcohol consumption and risk of heart failure: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. European Heart Journal, 2015; DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehu514

Science confirms: Mediterranean diet is really good for heart disease

A Mediterranean diet high in olive oil, nuts, fish and fresh fruits and vegetables helps prevent strokes and other heart issues.

mediterranean diet

Now before you put on your “Captain obvious” t-shirts, you should know that while (many other) previous studies have suggested that people who eat a Mediterranean-like diet have healthier hearts, they haven’t ruled out other differences associated with this type of diet (lifestyle, habits, etc). For the new trial, researchers went for a new strategy, assigning volunteers at risk of heart disease to a Mediterranean or standard low-fat diet for five years, basically singling out the effect of the diet.

“This is good news, because we know how to prevent the main cause of deaths – that is cardiovascular disease – with a good diet,” said Dr. Miguel Angel Martinez-Gonzalez, who worked on the study at the Universidad de Navarra in Pamplona.

He and his colleagues working on the study assigned the 7500 volunteers with heart issues or diabetes to one of three groups. The first two groups were instructed to eat a Mediterranean diet – the first one with extra-virgin olive oil and the other with nuts, both donated for the study, while the third group ate a “control” diet, which emphasized low-fat dairy products, grains and fruits and vegetables.

Over the next five years, they observed that people on both Mediterranean diets were 28 to 30 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than those on the general low-fat diet – which of course, is really good in itself.

“The quality of fat in the Mediterranean diet is very good,” he told Reuters Health. “This good source of calories is replacing other bad sources of calories. In addition, there is a wide variety of plant foods in the Mediterranean diet,” including legumes and fruits as desserts, Martinez-Gonzalez added.

The key, researchers explain, is both what the Mediterranean diet is, and what it isn’t.

mediterranean food health

“I think it’s a combination of what’s eaten and what’s not eaten,” agreed Mozaffarian, who wasn’t involved in the new research.

“Things that are discouraged are refined breads and sweets, sodas and red meats and processed meats. The combination of more of the good things and less of the bad things is important.”, added Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, who studies nutrition and cardiovascular disease at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston.