Mediterranean diet health benefits on longevity, lung health, heart
August 1 2017 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.

A Mediterranean diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats, meat and dairy products lowers levels of inflammation in the elderly, as reflected by lower levels of C-reactive protein. This effect should, in turn, lead to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease that has been associated with this type of diet. CRP is a marker of inflammation that has been tied to the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Eating a Mediterranean-style diet high in vegetables, fruits and nuts, legumes, fish and cereals, and low in dairy products, meat, and fat, with moderate alcohol consumption, is not only good for the heart, it's also good for the brain, it healthy benefits for the mind.

Fat intake, is fat harmful?
The Mediterranean diet does not regard all fat as bad. In fact, the focus of the diet is not to limit total fat consumption, but rather to make wise choices about the type of fat in the diet. Our modern diet contains at least five types of fat. The Mediterranean diet is low in saturated fat. However, it views two types of fat -- omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats -- as healthy and places no restrictions on their consumption. The omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish (eg, salmon, trout, sardines, tuna) and in some plant sources (eg, walnuts and other tree nuts, flaxseed, various vegetables). Monounsaturated fat is abundant in olive oil, nuts, and avocados.

Brain health, cognitive function
Evidence from epidemiologic studies suggests a relation between the Mediterranean diet and cognitive function.

Mediterranean way may reduce risk of Alzheimer's disease
Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas and colleagues from Columbia University in New York City had previously shown that, among a group of healthy people with no dementia, the more closely people adhered to the Mediterranean diet, the lower their risk of developing Alzheimer's. To look at the diet Alzheimer's link a different way, the researchers compared 194 people diagnosed with Alzheimer's to 1,790 individuals with no dementia. Those in the group with the most Mediterranean-like diet were 68 percent less likely to have Alzheimer's than those whose diet was farthest from the Mediterranean ideal, the researchers found. People in the middle group had a 53 percent lower Alzheimer's risk compared to those with the lowest adherence to the Mediterranean diet.. The diet's protective effects may be related to its antioxidant or anti-inflammatory effects. Archives of Neurology, 2006.

Mediterranean diet and allergy prevention
Children of women who eat a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits and vegetables while pregnant are far less likely to develop asthma or allergies later in life.

Blood sugar and diabetes
Eur J Clin Nutrition. 2014. Comparative effect of two Mediterranean diets versus a low-fat diet on glycaemic control in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Mediterranean diets supplemented with virgin olive oil or nuts reduced total body weight and improved glucose metabolism to the same extent as the usually recommended low-fat diet.

Evid Based Ment Health. 2016. Mediterranean diet and treating diabetes and depression in old age may reduce dementia risk. Defrancesco M.

Mediterranean-style diets may be better for the heart than low-fat diets
Spanish researchers found that the traditional Mediterranean diet bested a low-fat diet in helping older adults improve their cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Mediterranean style eating generally means plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, limited amounts of red meat and processed foods, and a good amount of fat from olive oil and nuts. Studies have shown that people living in the Mediterranean region have lower rates of heart disease, despite their high fat intake. Experts believe the benefit stems from the fact that the unsaturated fats found in olive oil and nuts actually help protect the cardiovascular system, so does eating less junk food and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Olive oil is mostly monounsaturated fat, and virgin olive oil -- which is minimally processed -- retains the fruit's natural antioxidants, as well as nutrients that may help reduce inflammation in the blood vessels. Similarly, nuts contain unsaturated fats and other nutrients thought to be heart-protective. The study did not assess whether virgin olive oil or nuts were the healthier fat source. Annals of Internal Medicine, July 4, 2006.

Longevity, increased life span
Eating a Mediterranean diet may be your key to living longer according to a 2014 study led by Immaculata De Vivo, associate professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School. Immaculata De Vivo eating items off a menu that is rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and peas, unrefined grains, olive oil and fish. It keeps dairy, meat and saturated fats to a minimum. And you can have a glass of red wine with dinner.

Lung health
Eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and fish keep lungs healthy as well as hearts. Those who follow a diet closest to this " Mediterranean " ideal are less likely as their peers with eating habits furthest from this pattern to develop chronic lung disease.

Mediterranean diet helps you live longer, longevity
Eating a Mediterranean diet as opposed to a typical American diet, increases longevity. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2007.

Q. Is goat's milk okay to drink?
   A. Limited amounts of milk and dairy products are part of a healthy overall food intacke which, besides cow's milk, also consists of sheep's and goat's milk.

Q. I have visited the Middle East, and I found many people also eat lots of sweets after a meal.
   A. Yes, they used to eat more fruits after a meal, but the convenience of sweets makes it easier for people who eat a healthy Mediterranean diet to lose some of the benefits by eating lots of sweets and drinking sugared drinks such as sodas.

The Mediterranean diet, named for the region in which it originated, has many anti-inflammatory benefits. It includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, whole grains, alcohol, and healthful fats like olive and canola oil. It has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels and reduce the risk of blood clots. Studies have shown that diets high in fish, olive oil and cooked vegetables reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. A Mediterranean diet or elements of it seems linked to reduced risk for a number of chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's.

Does Dr. Sahelian have any views of the Paleo diet? Several times now Iíve run across people who say that their health has improved markedly since they switched to eating according to the Paleo principles. My wife and I have been eating more along the lines of the Mediterranean diet for years, but have now heard so much enthusiasm, from intelligent people, about the Paleo diet that we feel called upon to look into it.
   A. For the time being I think the Mediterranean diet is just as good but it is perfectly fine to incorporate some elements of the Paleo diet.