The Many Health Benefits Of The Mediterranean Diet


One of the most common questions asked by patients is: what’s the best diet? Well, according to US News & World Report, the best diet is the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet). (1) The many health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are widely acknowledged but the fact that it has got top honors is based on numerous factors.

To understand how the Mediterranean diet’s health benefits stack up against other popular diets, let’s take a look at some of the criteria that were used to create the report’s best diet ranking for 2019:

  • Is easy to follow
  • Has nutritional completeness
  • Encourages weight loss
  • Is safe
  • Has the ability to prevent and manage key illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease
fish with vegetables on a plate

The Mediterranean diet is packed with powerful polyphenols, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and other compounds that have been shown to enhance health on many levels.

It’s really not that surprising that the MedDiet would rank at the top of the list because it is perhaps one of the healthiest, most widely studied diets in the world today. What makes the MedDiet so healthy? The foods on this diet are not only tasty (which helps with patient compliance!), they are also packed with powerful polyphenols, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and other compounds that have been shown to enhance health on many levels.

Did you know?
The MedDiet is built on a strong foundation of fresh whole unprocessed foods, healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, nuts), lean meat as a side dish, freshly caught fish, lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.

You can find a great overview of the MedDiet here.

Let’s take a closer look at the myriad of health benefits that accrue to you when you eat a Mediterranean-focused diet.

Get head-to-toe health benefits with the MedDiet

The MedDiet truly has significant head-to-toe health benefits. Whether you’re looking at the Mediterranean-style diet for heart health or brain health, you will find that the advantages of this diet are manifold.

The brain and the MedDiet

So, let’s begin with the brain. The MedDiet positively influences brain health from a cognitive standpoint, as well as a mental health perspective. In fact, according to a 2018 large scale, systematic review and meta-analysis published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, eating a MedDiet can help reduce the risk of depression. (2) The MedDiet is also associated with enhanced memory and brain function. A 2017 study involving nearly 6,000 older adults published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society showed that a MedDiet was associated with a 35% reduced risk of scoring poorly on brain function tests and even people in the study who ate a moderate Mediterranean-style diet had a 15% reduced risk of scoring poorly. (3) In this study, there was also a lower risk of developing cognitive impairment among the participants who ate a Mediterranean-style diet.

The benefits of the Mediterranean diet for your heart

It’s time to move to the heart, which is where the MedDiet really shines. Perhaps the most well-known trial illustrating cardiovascular benefits of the MedDiet is the 2013 PREDIMED study, a parallel-group, multicenter, randomized trial. (4) Since that time, many studies have confirmed the cardiovascular benefit of the Mediterranean-style diet. In fact, in 2018, the same authors of the original PREDIMED trial conducted another multicenter study involving individuals at high risk of heart disease that was published in The New England Journal of Medicine. They found that a MedDiet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and nuts significantly reduced the risk of cardiovascular events. (5)

How the MedDiet helps with immunity and inflammation

Healthy immunity and inflammation are also sweet spots for this diet. The MedDiet has been shown to help protect against many cancers and other chronic immune and inflammatory issues. (6) The authors of a 2014 review published in the journal Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders concluded that the MedDiet has “an intense anti-inflammatory effect.” (7)

Balance your blood sugar levels with the world’s best diet

The MedDiet can even help balance blood sugar levels. In fact, according to a 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis published in the journal Public Health Nutrition “Greater adherence to the MedDiet is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of diabetes.” (8)

two people stretching their legs before exercising

Not only is the Mediterranean diet tasty, but it is also one of the healthiest in the world. It benefits your heart, brain, immunity and even your bones!

Follow the Mediterranean diet for your bones

What about bones? That’s where the head to toe analogy really works because the MedDiet has been shown to benefit the entire skeletal system. A 2019 cross-sectional study published in the journal Climacteric involving healthy postmenopausal women showed that “Bone mineral density at the lumbar spine and ALMI [appendicular lean mass index] were positively associated with the MDS [MedDiet score]…” (9)

Finally, what about weight loss?

The MedDiet health story doesn’t end with the bones. From a whole body perspective, the MedDiet can contribute to weight loss and helping patients maintain normal body weight. According to the 2018 EPIC-Italy cohort study that was published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, the MedDiet not only helped prevent weight gain, it also helped reduce the risk of abdominal obesity. (10)

a man and a woman talking over salad

The one reason for the wild popularity of the MedDiet is that there is no one reason: there are many! From your head to your toe, the Mediterranean diet has you covered.

Live long and prosper

With all of this research-based science backing up the MedDiet, it’s no wonder that it is also associated with increased telomere length and enhanced longevity. According to a 2014 population-based cohort study that was published in the British Medical Journal, after adjusting for potential confounders, adherence to the MedDiet resulted in longer telomeres. (11) Authors of a 2016 review published in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care concluded that the MedDiet can increase life expectancy.

The authors boldly stated that “…the MedDiet represents the gold standard in preventive medicine, probably due to the harmonic combination of many elements with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which overwhelm any single nutrient or food item. The whole seems more important than the sum of its parts.” (12)

Now you know, when healthcare practitioners are asked that common question, what’s the best diet, they can confidently state, the Mediterranean diet.

 

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  1. Lassale C, Batty GD, Baghdadli A, et al. Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Molecular Psychiatry. 2018;Sept 26.
  2. McEvoy CT, Guyer H, Langa KM, Yaffe K. Neuroprotective diets are associated with better cognitive function: the health and retirement study. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 2017;65(8):1857-1862.
  3. Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvado J, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a MedDiet. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2013;368(14):1279-1290.
  4. Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvado J, et al. Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a MedDiet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and nuts. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2018;378(25).
  5. Schwingshacki L, Schwedhelm C, Galbete C, Hoffmann G. Adherence to MedDiet and risk of cancer: An updated systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrients. 2017;9(10):1063.
  6. Casas R, Sacanella E, Estruch R. The immune protective effect of the MedDiet against low-grade inflammatory diseases. Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders. 2014;14:245-254.
  7. Schwingshacki L, Missbach B, Konig J, Hoffmann G. Adherence to a MedDiet and risk of diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Public Health Nutrition. 2015;18(7):1292-9.
  8. Silva TRD, Martins CC, Ferreira LL, Spritzer PM. MedDiet is associated with bone mineral density and muscle mass in postmenopausal women. Climacteric. 2019;22(2):162-168.
  9. Agnoli C, Sieri S, Ricceri F, et al. Adherence to a MedDiet and long-term changes in weight and waste circumference in the EPIC-Italy cohort. Nutrition & Diabetes. 2018;8:22.
  10. Crous-Bou M, Fung TT, Julin B, et al. MedDiet and telomere length in Nurses’ Health Study: population based cohort study. BMJ. 2014;349.
  11. Martinez-Gonzalez M, Martin-Calvo N. MedDiet and life expectancy; beyond olive oil, fruits, and vegetables. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2016;19(6):401-407.

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