Originally published March 8 2009
Eat Like the Mediterraneans and Lower Risk of Metabolic Syndrome and Cognitive Impairment
by Barbara L. Minton
(NaturalNews) The good news about the Mediterranean diet just keeps coming. New studies have shown that eating like the Mediterraneans lowers the risk of having metabolic syndrome and stroke. It also lowers the chances for mild cognitive impairment, and the risk of progression from mild cognitive impairment to Alzheimer's disease. Survivors of heart attack had lower inflammatory markers when they adhered to the Mediterranean way of eating. Scientists have even isolated one of the most beneficial components of the diet.
Study finds Mediterranean eating cuts risk of metabolic syndrome
University scientists in Spain evaluated the relationship between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and metabolic syndrome, which is defined as a combination of medical disorders that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes. One quarter of the world's population has metabolic syndrome. These people are three times as likely to have a heart attack as those who do not have the syndrome, and twice as likely to die from their heart attacks. They have a five fold greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Up to 80% of the 200 million people with diabetes globally will die of cardiovascular disease. This puts metabolic syndrome way above HIV/AIDS in terms of morbidity and mortality, yet the syndrome is not well recognized by the medical establishment.
A cross-sectional study was conducted with 808 high cardiovascular risk participants. Metabolic syndrome was defined by the updated National Cholesterol and Education Program Adult Treatment Panel criteria. The scientists found an inverse association between quartiles of adherence to the diet and the prevalence of the syndrome. Participants with the highest adherence to Mediterranean eating had up to 54 percent lower odds of having low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides compared to those in the lowest quartile. Components of the diet such as olive oil, legumes, and red wine were associated with lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome. The study was published in the January 26 edition of Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease.
Potent beneficial compound of Mediterranean eating revealed
A study in Italy considered the relationship between dietary intake of allium vegetables and cardiovascular diseases. The allium family consists of versatile vegetables high in beneficial sulfur compounds that give them their distinctive taste and aroma. Onions and garlic are allium vegetables as are shallots, leeks and chives.
Researchers analyzed the relationship between onion intake and acute myocardial infarction (AMI), or heart attack. They used data from a case-control study of 760 patients with a first episode of non fatal heart attack, and 682 controls admitted to the same hospital. Information was collected by trained interviewers using a food-frequency questionnaire. They found that compared with non-users, the odds ratio of AMI for the following categories of onion intake were .90 for less than one portion per week and .78 for greater than one portion per week. From this study, reported in the January 13 edition of the European Journal of Nutrition, the researchers concluded that a diet rich in onions has a favorable effect on heart attack risk.
Mediterranean style eating is good for the brain
Researchers at Columbia University in New York explored the association between the Mediterranean diet and mild cognitive impairment. In a multi-ethnic community study in New York, 1393 cognitively normal participants were followed for a mean period of 4.5 years. During that time, 275 of them developed mild cognitive impairment. Compared with subjects in the lowest third for adherence to the Mediterranean diet, those in the middle third had 17 percent less risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, and those in the highest third had 28 percent less risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. There were 482 subjects who had pre-existing mild cognitive impairment, 106 of whom developed Alzheimer's disease during a mean follow up of 4.3 years. Compared with subjects in the lowest third in diet adherence, subjects in the middle third had 45 percent less risk of developing Alzheimer's, and those in the highest third had 48 percent less risk. This study was reported in the February Archives of Neurology.
The Mediterranean diet is based on abundance, not deprivation
While it is common to think of diets restricting food intake, the Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that compasses a love of eating. It has nothing to do with deprivation. It is based on the glorious array of fresh foods that are products of the region.
The diet was discovered by Dr. Ancel Keys, from the University of Minnesota Public Health School, given its name by the International Conference on Diets in the Mediterranean in 1993, and promoted by Dr. Willett, Head of the Nutrition Department at Harvard University. It is the diet of the common people living in Greece, Italy and Spain.
What is thought of as the traditional Mediterranean diet has been interpreted into a pyramid with daily physical activity at its base. Regular physical activity is seen as bedrock for promoting healthy weight, fitness and well-being. This is not grueling exercise, but enjoyable activity like walking, soccer, tennis, golf, dancing, weight lifting and love making. It includes activities with immediate paybacks, like house cleaning and gardening.
The food base of the pyramid is comprised of plant sources, including fruits, vegetables, potatoes, breads and grains, beans, and nuts and seeds. Common foods on this step are pasta, rice, couscous, and polenta. Emphasis is on a variety of minimally processed, and whenever possible, seasonally fresh and locally grown foods. Foods typically grown in the region include olives, avocadoes, grapes, spinach, eggplant, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, garlic, capers, onions, almonds, walnuts, chick peas, white beans, lentils and other beans, and peanuts.
Olive oil is the principle fat used in Mediterranean cuisine. Total fat consumption ranges from less than 25 percent to over 35 percent of calories, with saturated fat making up no more than 7 to 8 percent of all fat calories. Olive oil is predominantly monounsaturated fat. Mediterraneans do not generally use highly process polyunsaturated vegetable or seed oils.
Small amounts of cheese and yogurt are consumed by the Mediterraneans on a daily basis. Consumption of fish is also a traditional part of their diet, but fish is usually consumed only once a week and in small amounts. The fish is primarily shellfish or sardines. Weekly consumption of poultry is also common. Mediterraneans eat eggs too, but don't consume more than four eggs a week including those used in cooking and baking.
Sweets such as pastries, ice cream and cookies are consumed occasionally. They are not a part of the daily diet.
At the very top of the pyramid is animal meat, such as veal or lamb. This is consumed about once a month, a very different scenario that the typical American diet in which large chunks of animals are often eaten two or three times a day. The Mediterraneans are able to meet most of their protein needs by consuming vegetables, nuts and seeds, and beans. The daily small serving of cheese or yogurt makes these proteins complete, providing all the essential amino acids.
Alcohol, particularly red wine, is consumed in moderation with meals.
The Mediterranean diet provides the nutrients needed for good health
The reliance of the Mediterraneans on fruits and vegetables as the major force in their diets means they are consuming large amounts of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and antioxidants from what they eat, so supplements are not usually needed. The diet provides a high amount of health promoting polyphenols, compounds found in fruits and vegetables that protect against the ravages of aging and ward off degenerative diseases. Their red wine provides resveratrol, the compound that mimics a diet of calorie restriction, making the Mediterranean diet one that does not make its eaters overweight. Through the dairy products and occasional fish and meats, the diet provides critical nutrients for brain health.
Olive oil also helps produce many of the beneficial effects of the diet with its ability to lower cholesterol levels in the blood. Olive oil is known to lower blood sugar levels and blood pressure. Research indicates that olive oil prevents peptic ulcers and is effective in the treatment of peptic ulcer disease. It has recently been shown to protect women from HER-2 breast cancer. Olive oil, along with the nuts, seeds and fish of the diet provides beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides and have an anti-inflammatory effect that helps to stabilize blood vessel lining. Omega-3 fats promote optimal cognitive functioning.
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About the authorBarbara is a school psychologist, a published author in the area of personal finance, a breast cancer survivor using "alternative" treatments, a born existentialist, and a student of nature and all things natural.
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