Entries in Mediterranean Diet (5)


Mediterranean Diet Helps to Preserve Memory and Cognitive Skills

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- According to a new study, a Mediterranean diet, high in Omega-3s and low in meat and dairy, may help to preserve memory and cognitive ability.

The study, published in the journal Neurology, was the largest study to date on the impact of Omega-3 fatty acids.

Researchers analyzed data collected from over 17,000 participants with an average age of 64 years old. Each participant was given a series of mental tests over a span of four years.

Among healthy subjects, those who adhered closest to the Mediterranean style diet were almost 20 percent less likely to develop issues with their memory or thinking skills.

Researchers say that because there is no treatment for Alzheimer's disease or cognitive decline, a diet that helps to prevent its onset could prove to be of major importance.

Omega-3s are found in most fish, chicken, vegetables and olive oils.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Mediterranean Diet Cuts Risk of Heart Disease, Study Finds

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Could switching to a Mediterranean-style diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, fish, olive oil and nuts, help reduce your risk of heart attacks, strokes and heart-related deaths?  A new study out Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests it could.

Researchers in Spain looked at over 7,000 patients who did not have heart disease but were at high risk.  The patients were then put on either a Mediterranean diet plus olive oil, a Mediterranean diet plus nuts, or a regular diet with a direction to reduce fat.  

The study's authors found that those on the Mediterranean diets had a 30-percent reduction in cardiovascular events.

"The study really is a potential game changer because it's the first large dietary study in many years which has looked at disease event outcomes, you know such as heart attacks or strokes, as opposed to intermediate markers, such as effects on cholesterol or inflammatory markers in the blood," says Dr. Eric Zacharias, an assistant clinical professor at the University of Colorado and author of the book The Mediterranean Diet: A Clinician's guide for Patient Care.

"This is the best evidence we have to date that simple changes in your diet can actually reduce the chances that you're going to get heart disease and die from heart disease," notes ABC's Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser.

So what exactly is so healthy about the Mediterranean diet?

"The favorable nutrients and health-promoting properties of olive oils, plant-based foods and vegetables and fruit and also the avoidance of the unfavorable effects that come from simple and refined sugars and large loads of animal fats and red meat," explains Zacharias.

He says the diet change could not only help those at risk, but also the economy.

"The health care costs for hospitalization for heart attacks and strokes, even if there's just a tiny dent in the hospitalization, it would result in billions of dollars of health care savings each year," says Zacharias.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Mediterranean Diet May Improve Bone Health, Study Suggests

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Could olive oil be the new milk?  A new study suggests that this might be the case -- though not all health experts are convinced yet.

The study, which looked at 127 elderly Spanish men, found that those who ate a Mediterranean diet enriched with olive oil had higher levels of a protein called osteocalcin that plays a role in bone formation.  The research was published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

This could be an important finding since osteoporosis is the most common bone disease in the United States, affecting more than 10 million people.  Osteoporosis mainly affects elderly women, but men can develop the disease too.  In 2005, there were an estimated two million osteoporosis-related fractures, 29 percent of them in men.

Earlier studies have found that there are lower rates of osteoporosis in the Mediterranean basin, compared to the rest of Europe, and that may have something to do with the Mediterranean diet.  This diet consists of minimally processed fruits, vegetables, breads, beans, nuts and seeds.  Olive oil is supposed to be the main source of fat, and there is usually limited dairy, egg and red meat.

Past studies have suggested that the Mediterranean diet has the potential to lower cardiovascular risk, increase weight loss, lower cancer risk, improve diabetes, and reduce pain and swollen joints in rheumatoid arthritis.  What if improved bone health could be added to this growing list?

“We have more evidence that what is good for health in one way, tends to be good for health overall,” says Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University Prevention Research Center.  “The very same Mediterranean diet known to be good for cardiovascular health may also confer benefits on your bones.”

However, Dr. Beth Kitchin, a patient educator at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Osteoporosis Clinic, cautions that osteocalcin is simply a marker of bone health -- in other words, the new study doesn’t actually look at whether the Mediterranean diet increased bone density or lowered fracture risk.

“This is very interesting data but much, much more work needs to be done before you can say if this has a true clinical impact on bone health,” says Kitchin.

On this point, Katz agrees. “This is not a study of bone density, or clinical effects; it is a short-term study of biomarkers.  Interesting, but [it is] more useful for hypothesis generation than anything else.”

Nutritionists were also quick to point out that this study shouldn’t undermine the importance of calcium and vitamin D in bone health.

“It doesn’t replace calcium and vitamin D in the diet, however,” says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, a dietician and professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  “But including all three, and regular exercise, are showing promise as the best way to ensure good bone health."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mediterranean Diet May Be Good for the Brain, Study Finds

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A Mediterranean diet may reduce small-vessel damage to the brain, according to a new study published in the Archives of Neurology.

Researchers from University of Miami and Columbia University analyzed food frequency questionnaires filled out by 966 participants in the Northern Manhattan Study, a study designed to identify risk factors for stroke and coronary disease.  Study participants then underwent brain MRI scans to analyze the white matter hyperintensity volume, which is a sign of small vessel disease.

Researchers found that people who closely followed a Mediterranean diet -- which is made up of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, legumes, whole grains, little red meat and a glass of red wine here and there -- had fewer brain lesions than those who had higher-fat and more red meat-based diets.  People who exercised more were also more likely to consume foods associated with the Mediterranean diet.

“Normally, these lesions are associated with hypertension, high-cholesterol, diabetes and age,” said Dr. Clinton Wright, associate professor of neurology at Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami Medical Center and senior author of the study.  “We saw that there was a relationship between diet and this marker of small vessel disease.  Those who adhered to a more Mediterranean diet had less small vessel damage.”

Small vessel disease is a condition where the small arteries in the heart become narrowed.  The disease can cause signs of heart disease, including chest pain and artery blockages, and it is most common in women and diabetics, according to the Mayo Clinic. The lesions are also linked to cognitive disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.

“Of course, this was an association study, and we’d need randomized trials to prove this association,” said Wright.

Dr. Ken Fujioka, director of nutrition and metabolic research at Scripps Health Clinic in San Diego, said the biggest single difference in the Mediterranean diet versus many other diets is the high amount of mono-unsaturated fats (found in vegetable oils, fish, nuts oils and avocados) that have been shown to have multiple health benefits.

Fujioka said he agreed with the findings, but said, “as we move forward we will get to a point for some people [where] this will be the best diet, but for others, a different diet might be better and the future is trying to find out which diet [is best] for which patient.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mediterraneans Ditch Their Famously Healthy Diet

Medioimages/Photodisc(NEW YORK) -- The Mediterranean diet -- rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy oils -- has been praised for its ability to stave off obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even arthritis and Alzheimer's disease.

All the benefits come to naught, however, if no one is willing to follow it. While the obesity epidemic continues to grow in the United States, even those native to the birthplace of the Mediterranean diet have forsaken their healthful culinary roots for a more modern, processed, obesity-inducing diet.

As early as 2008, while the Mediterranean diet was experiencing a surge of popularity state-side, a United Nations report by Josef Schmidhuber, senior economist of the U.N's Food and Agriculture Organization, wrote that the diet had "decayed into a moribund state" back in the 16 Mediterranean countries that made it famous.

Instead, those living around the Mediterranean wanted food that was "too fat, too salty and too sweet," Schmidhuber said. Today, that trend continues, with researchers in the region reporting that more and more, young people are shunning traditional diets for processed food and a sedentary lifestyle.

"How tragic, then, that rather than importing the Med diet to the U.S., we are exporting to the Med region the very dietary and lifestyle practices that have given us rampant obesity and diabetes, and unsustainable disease care costs," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center.

But is the growing love of fast food and soda simply the exportation of the American diet, or is it the product of modern living and affluence? That even Mediterranean young people are opting for these kinds of cheap, fast, convenience food options might shed light on why the Western world, in general, is rapidly expanding its waistline.

Although undoubtedly one of the healthiest diets, the Mediterranean diet has received some flack in the United States for being an expensive one. The fresh produce, olive oil and fish that make up the stables of the diet are all many times more expensive than the processed meats, fats and carbohydrates that are the staples of junk food diets.

"Studies have shown that if you shop around the edges of the supermarket, where all the fresh produce and dairy is, you pay about 10 times more for every 100 calories of food you get when compared to shopping in the middle of the store, where the chips, snacks and processed foods are," said Dr. Carla Wolper, senior clinical nutritionist at New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City.

"The amount of junk food consumed in the U.S. has mostly to do with how cheap it is, especially in the recession."

Other research has tracked how those on welfare eat and found that how much junk and fast food people eat is tied to how recently they received their welfare check, Wolper said.

"When people get their checks, they tend to spend it quickly, and towards the end while they're waiting for the next check, that's when they eat the most junk food," she said.

Today, the cheapness of processed foods in the United States and abroad makes healthy diets, rich in the staples of the Mediterranean cuisine, a privilege of the affluent. The great irony, however, is that the Mediterranean diet evolved as the diet of the poor, agrarian classes in that region.

"This diet was developed out of economic necessity," Wolper said. Fruits and vegetables were grown in backyards, olive oil was made in the home, and meat was expensive so it was eaten rarely, she said.

But as soon as fatty, sugary, salty foods become more affordable -- as made possible by modern processing of food -- people, no matter their nationality, became more likely to eat it because of human nature, Katz said.

"Throughout most of human history, calories, sugar, salt, and fat were scarce, and needed for survival…and physical activity was unavoidable. All homo sapiens -- American, Mediterranean, and otherwise -- are hard-wired to like the foods that provide these. So, once a food supply becomes available that delivers these in abundance, in abundance they are consumed," he said.

Even as Americans were trying to export the Mediterranean peasant diet back to the States for its health benefits, those living in that region were growing out of that farming lifestyle and the diet it created and growing into a more affluent, industrialized society keen on convenient, processed foods.

Now, nations such Greece are growing into the expanded pant sizes that come with such a dietary shift, with three quarters of the Greek population tipping the scales at overweight or obese. Similar obesity trends continue in Italy, Crete and other Mediterranean nations, especially among adolescents.

"We are all victims of our own success," Katz said. "We have devised a modern world in which physical activity is scarce and hard to get, and calories are unavoidable. Houston, we have a problem."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio