The Mediterannean Diet (MedDiet) — is it as Effective as Prescription Medications?
The word Mediterranean conjures images of azure blue waters and idyllic vacations. Many of us are probably familiar with the foods of the Mediterranean countries and cities and likely enjoy the cuisine. In fact, if one were vacationing in the South of France, Greece, or the South of Spain, you would probably be enjoying a Mediterranean Diet without even realizing it. Imagine if one could dine one’s way to health with foods we associate with being on vacation! This idea may not be so far fetched after all. In the following blog, I discuss the Mediterranean diet, or MedDiet in medical jargon, and its many potential benefits. In the era of the Evidence Based Medical Practice, the MedDiet has emerged as one of the most compelling lifestyle choices one can make for the improvement of their health.
Most of us have probably thought we should be eating healthier. If this thought has occurred to you, then it is likely true. The industrialized food supply and the shift to convenience has dramatically altered our relationship to the foods we eat and undoubtedly contributed to the global obesity epidemic. In fact, an unhealthy diet represents the leading global, modifiable cause of morbidity and mortality.
A healthy diet is one of the easiest ways by which one can immediately improve the quality of their health. It ranks with smoking cessation and weight loss as one of the most effective health interventions. But what is a healthy diet? With the commercialization and media, the average person is confronted with a bewildering array of choices representing unsubstantiated benefits and poor evidence. Examples include the Gluten-free diet, the Keto diet, intermittent fasting diets etc.
Most diets advertised promote weight loss and are variations of the high protein diet first championed in the 1950s and later popularized in the 1980s as the Atkins diet. The Atkins diet, while effective in long-term weight loss, has no proven benefits in promoting cardiovascular health.
The single life style change which has the potential to benefit one’s overall health and weight management is the MedDiet. I prefer to refer to dietary modifications as life-style changes with the attendant implication of a long-term commitment.
The MedDiet, emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Butter is replaced with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil. The MedDiet views meats as a compliment to the meal with vegetables, grains, and legumes as the stars of the plate. Legumes are an excellent source of protein and in fact play a vital role in Nitrogen Fixation.
In the pre-refrigeration era butter turned rancid in the warmer Mediterranean climates thus making olive the preferred fats . Olive and Canola oils represent Monounsaturated Fats (MUFA) which are considered to be healthy fats. Given the arid and rocky terrain of many Mediterranean countries and the sparsity of grazing pastures, cattle were difficult to raise and red meat was necessarily limited.
What emerges as a consequence of the Mediterranean climates and terrain is a diet rich in Polyphenols and low in unhealthy fats and sugars.
Polyphenols, or Polyhydroxyphenols, are micronutrients obtained through certain plant-based foods. They are packed with Antioxidants. It is thought that polyphenols improve digestion issues, weight management difficulties, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases.
There is plenty of evidence derived from well designed studies that support the health benefits of polyphenols. One study measured polyphenol levels in urine and demonstrated subjects with the highest levels of polyphenols had significantly lower plasma levels of inflammatory biomarkers such as VCAM (vascular cell adhesion molecule)-1, ICAM (intercellular adhesion molecule)-1, IL (interleukin)-6, TNF (tumor necrosis factor)-α, and monocyte chemotactic protein-1.
In a separate study tracking patients for 1-year, blood pressure decreased while plasma HDL-C increased in parallel with increasing urinary total polyphenol excretion. This finding suggests a dose-dependent anti-inflammatory effect of polyphenols. This is the desired effect of taking medications for hypertension and cholesterol. Moreover, in the PREDIMED Trial, polyphenol intake, as determined from a food-frequency questionnaire, was associated with lower rates of cardiovascular events, blood pressure, and total mortality.
It has been shown in various peer reviewed journals that there is a large, strong, plausible, and consistent body of prospective data to support the benefits of the MedDiet with regards to both cardiovascular health and weight management. Moreover, in assessing multiple patterns of food consumption, no other dietary pattern has undergone such comprehensive, repeated, and international assessment of its cardiovascular effects as the MedDiet. In fact, the MedDiet approaches the Gold Standard for cardiovascular health.
In summary, the Mediterranean Diet represents the gold standard in Preventive Medicine. The benefits of the MedDiet result from a harmonic combination of several elements with both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which are vastly greater than any single nutrient or food item. An excellent case of the sum being greater than the parts.
Based on large prospective studies, it is entirely possible that the MedDiet may be as effective as some prescription medications in the management of certain chronic diseases — and without side effects!
If you are interested in exploring and adopting the MedDiet, I recommend The Complete Mediterranean Diet from America’s Kitchen. It’s available on Amazon and can be found in the library of Reddy Aesthetics in our lobby.
Bon appetit, Buen provecho, Guten appetit, Bom apetite, बॉन एपेतीत
Go maith, בתאבון, Buon appetito, Priyatnogo appetita, , بالعافية
Dr. Reddy is a Board Certified Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon. Dr. Reddy is a fully trained General Surgeon — a specialty which has made tremendous contributions to the field of Nutritional Science. He has an interest in population health.
P. Pravin Reddy, MD is a Board Certified Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon and a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.