THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET AND HEALTH: WHAT DOES THE EVIDENCE SHOW?
The Mediterranean diet is one of the most widely studied dietary patterns. The diet is based around a high intake of minimally processed plant foods (including fruits, vegetables, legumes, wholegrains, nuts and seeds) with moderate amounts of dairy foods, eggs, fish and poultry and only small amounts of red meat. Extra-virgin olive oil is the major source of fat in the diet and red wine is consumed during meals, in moderation.
In a narrative review published in the Journal of Internal Medicine in August last year, the authors set out to summarise our current knowledge of important health outcomes associated with the Mediterranean diet. They looked at both observational and intervention studies and those looking at risk factors and disease outcomes.
After reviewing the research, the authors concluded that there is strong evidence to support a range of health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. This includes reductions in the risk of cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular mortality, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, some types of cancer, and cognitive impairment. There is also promising evidence of benefits for weight management, overall mortality and specific cancers.
These findings are consistent with a 2018 umbrella review of 13 meta-analysis of observational studies and 16 meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) which found that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, heart attack, type 2 diabetes, overall cancer incidence and neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease).
The authors of the current review also considered the environmental impact of a Mediterranean diet, noting that the diet traditionally has a low environmental footprint because of the focus on plant foods over animal foods, seasonal consumption of fresh and local produce, and use of a wide range of plant foods including wild species.
While initially studied in countries around the Mediterranean Sea, research has shown benefits of a Mediterranean-style diet in many other western countries, including Australia.
The authors conclude the Mediterranean diet not only has many health benefits but that it can also be part of a sustainable lifestyle and food system which can be adapted to the agricultural resources and cultures of different countries around the world.
- Guasch-Ferré and Willett. The Mediterranean diet and health: a comprehensive overview. J Intern Med. 2021
- Dinu and colleagues. Mediterranean diet and multiple health outcomes: an umbrella review of meta-analyses of observational studies and randomised trials. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2018
Dr Kate Marsh is an is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian, Credentialled Diabetes Educator and health and medical writer with a particular interest in plant-based eating and the dietary management of diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
Contact: Via her website www.drkatemarsh.com.au