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The Mediterranean Diet

Updated: 8/14/21 2:00 pmPublished: 8/31/07

by daniel trecroci

the mediterranean diet makes sense of the ‘french paradox’

It was first publicized in 1945, but it took more than 50 years to get its name - the Mediterranean Diet. By the 1990s, researchers noticed that people living in Mediterranean countries consumed high amounts of fat, but unlike their fat-consuming counterparts in the U.S., they were at less risk of heart disease.

This is sometimes referred to as the “French paradox,” but it really isn’t a paradox at all: Americans consume higher amounts of saturated fats, while in the Mediterranean world, monounsaturated fats are more likely to be consumed.

But fats alone are not responsible. What really puts the gusto in the Mediterranean diet - what has drawn so much attention - is the wine. 

‘it’s the type of fat that counts’

But don’t overdo the happy hours. Moderation, of course, is paramount, and there is more research data on monosaturated fats than on Merlot.

“In the Mediterranean diet, the main ‘fat’ is olive oil, with a very high content in monounsaturated fatty acids and more than 200 microcomponents - many of which exert beneficial properties to health,” Dr. Antonia Trichopoulou, a researcher at the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology at the University of Athens Medical School in Athens, Greece, told diaTribe .

Dr, Trichopoulou, as well as researchers from Harvard School of Public Health, published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine (July 26, 2003) that found that a greater adherence to the Mediterranean Diet is associated with a significant reduction in total death. Dr. Trichopoulou told diaTribe that, combined with physical activity and weight control, the Mediterranean diet is ideal for a person with type 2 diabetes. One of his more recent studies in the Journal of Internal Medicine (June 2006) found that increased consumption of eggs and saturated fats was associated with significant increase of death in people with diabetes while monounsaturated fats were found to be “preferable for diabetic persons.”

the mediterranean diet explained

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the common Mediterranean Diet has these characteristics:

  • A high consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds

  • Olive oil—an important monounsaturated fat source—used for cooking and dressings

  • Dairy products, fish and poultry that are consumed in low to moderate amounts

  • A minimal consumption of red meat

  • Eggs are consumed zero to four times a week

  • Low to moderate consumption of full-fat cheese and yogurt

  • Moderate consumption of wine, usually with meals

  • Reliance on local, seasonal, fresh produce

  • An active lifestyle

“More than half the fat calories in a Mediterranean diet come from monounsaturated fats (mainly from olive oil),” says the AHA. “Monounsaturated fat doesn't raise blood cholesterol levels the way saturated fat does.”

data everywhere support the mediterranean diet

According to data from the Lyon Diet Heart Study—a randomized, controlled trial designed to test the efficacy of a Mediterranean-type diet in people who have had a heart attack—patients following the Mediterranean-style diet had a 50 to 70 percent lower risk of recurrent heart disease.

A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine (June 11, 2007) found that individuals at high cardiovascular risk who adopted one of two traditional Mediterranean diet (TMD) patterns —TMD + virgin olive oil or TMD + nuts—showed significant reductions in cellular lipid levels and LDL oxidation.

In another study, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (August 2006), data suggested that of the several components of the Mediterranean diet, alcohol, nuts and whole grains showed the strongest association with adiponectin concentrations in women with diabetes. Adiponectin is a protein hormone secreted from fat tissue into the bloodstream that changes a number of metabolic processes—among them, glucose regulation. Researchers discovered that, “Close adherence to a Mediterranean-type diet is associated with higher adiponectin concentrations.”

talk with your healthcare provider

As with any diet, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before starting one.

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