Demystifying the Mediterranean Diet
Is the Mediterranean Diet Actually as Good as Research Says?
Photo by Chris Ralston (unsplash)
by Rebecca Clark
After a study published in 2013 tracking the effects of the Mediterranean Diet found it to be beneficial, people went crazy for the diet. However, the validity of the results are now being questioned, so where does that leave dieters?
The Mediterranean Diet consists of foods that people from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea usually eat. The diet varies from country to country but the main foods include large amounts of fruit and vegetables, nuts, beans, fish and red wine. It also includes unsaturated fats such as olive oil but tends to avoid meat, dairy products and sugar.
The original study found that the diet reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease and more significantly decreases your risk of a stroke. Other studies have since contributed to the list of benefits, such as preventing ageing of the brain and delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.
However, the 2013 study, known as PREDIMED, has since been retracted and republished in the New England Journal of Medicine after the 7447 participants were not fully randomised. Participants were either assigned the low-fat control diet or a version of the Mediterranean Diet, however, some couples were assigned the same diet because of their marital status.
But the Mediterranean buzz still hasn’t gone. Some doctors still claim that the diet is as effective as statins. The current guidelines from NICE for those at risk of strokes or heart attacks are to prescribe statins to lower the low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. Cardiovascular Disease is Britain’s biggest killer, however, up to 80% of cases are caused by modifiable lifestyle factors such as exercise, diet and smoking. That’s why more and more doctors are calling for change: to reduce the reliance on drugs and urge more patients to follow a healthier lifestyle, which may include the Mediterranean Diet.
After removing the couples and reanalysing the results, the scientists still found there were benefits to the diet. But they were not as significant and only seemed to remain in the people who had a high risk of heart disease. So should we really be following the Mediterranean Diet if we aren’t at risk?
Your income plays a role as well. Researchers at the Mediterranean Neurological Institute in Italy found a 15% reduction in Cardiovascular Disease but only if your annual income was over £35,000. For those earning less, there were no benefits at all. This is because those with higher incomes chose to eat foods that contain higher amounts of heart-protecting antioxidants and polyphenols and foods that are grown with fewer pesticides. Those with a smaller annual income had less choice and couldn’t afford as many fruit and vegetables.
All this shows that more research needs to be done about what particular foods and in what quantity are needed to provide the benefits. Also, does a £5 bottle of olive oil have the same benefits as a £10 bottle? My bank balance is looking rather worried nonetheless.