Fresh fish, fruits and vegetables make eating the Mediterranean way a healthy
Stars and Stripes August 19, 2009
NAPLES — The benefits of the Mediterranean diet are in the news again, this time for helping ward off dementia associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
A recently published article in the Journal of the American Medical Association detailed results from a study in which senior citizens living in New York were monitored between 1992 and 2006 for adherence to a Mediterranean diet and physical activity.
The study showed regular eating of a Mediterranean-type diet was related to reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. It also correlated higher levels of physical activity to lower risk of the disease, independent of diet.
That may be welcome news for those who might not be interested in upping their activity level, but are willing to make a few changes when it comes to meal time.
So what is the Mediterranean diet?
There isn’t one specific regimen that makes up this particular eating lifestyle. Rather, it is regular consumption of certain foods that are readily available and prepared in a fashion common throughout the Mediterranean region.
According to the American Heart Association, the diet includes:
• Fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts and seeds.
• Olive oil, an important monounsaturated fat source (this is the healthy fat).
• Dairy products, fish and poultry, which are consumed in low to moderate amounts. Little red meat is eaten.
• Eggs, which are consumed zero to four times a week.
• Wine, which is consumed in low to moderate amounts.
Although the Mediterranean diet doesn’t exactly follow AHA guidelines (the last item, for example, isn’t part of the AHA’s recommendations), it is recognized by many in the medical community as a healthy way to eat.
It includes less saturated fat than the average American diet, with olive oil one of the most important features of this diet. Unlike other fats or oils used in cooking, olive oil doesn’t contain cholesterol, and there is little processing involved. It literally goes from olive to bottle to plate, with little in between.
The preference of fish and poultry over red meat is also a characteristic. Fresh fish is a staple in many Mediterranean countries and, unlike in the U.S., a fairly cheap item on many restaurant menus. Since the diet is based on normal eating habits in the region, finding this style of food in most restaurants is easy. No special menu choices are necessary.
While the incidence of heart disease in Mediterranean countries is lower than in the United States, according to the AHA, this may not be entirely due to the diet. The AHA Web site says lifestyle factors, such as more physical activity and extended social support systems, may also play a part.
In fact, the word "diet" can be misleading. The Med "diet" isn’t just about certain foods favored over others; it is part of the Med lifestyle. Eating habits, cooking habits, even shopping habits contribute to healthier living.
For example, many southern Europeans don’t have vault-size refrigerators. That means frequent — often daily — trips to the grocery store, fruit-and-vegetable stand and the fish seller.
Other health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet included lowered risk of heart disease, diabetes and stomach ailments.
The JAMA study on the Med diet reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease is available at http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/302/6/627?home.