The Mediterranean Diet (MD) describes general traditional diets of countries around the Mediterranean Sea. It includes large amounts of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, some meat and fish, whole grains, and dairy, with moderate use of wine. These foods are believed to be beneficial in reducing chronic diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, metabolic problems, some cancers and age-related degenerative diseases. There is evidence for increased longevity and reduced mortality by reducing these diseases.
In response to evidence of the inflammation-modulating effect of the MD, the present study investigated antioxidant status, cellular immune response, and oxidative stress in a group of healthy Italians. The 300 subjects from Southern and Central Italy were between ages 20 and 40 with normal BMI (body mass indices*). They were not on anti-inflammatory medications, were moderate alcohol users, did not use multivitamins and did not smoke. They were examined, and dietary and lifestyle questionnaires were completed. Only 131 subjects were fully qualified.
Dietary diaries were kept for four days, including a weekend. Blood samples were tested for vitamins A, C, and E, carotenoids, uric acid, serum oxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase, blood lipids, antioxidant profiles, immune status, and malondialdehyde**. Adherence to the diet was rated by a previously devised Mediterranean Diet Score (MDS), and adherence was rated as low, medium or high quality.
Testing revealed no differences of importance between the sexes. However, men ate more proteins and drank more alcohol, while women did not consume sufficient iron, calcium and potassium for their needs. By MDS, 26% of the subjects had low adherence to the MD, 46% had medium adherence, and 28% had high adherence. The upper 28% ate more fruits, vegetables and fish, but less meat, milk and dairy than the others.
The upper 28% had high LDL-cholesterol levels, however, their cardiovascular risk was overcome by consumption of fruits and vegetables. Carotenes, vitamin A, and vitamin E were the highest in those with the highest adherence to the MD. Anti-inflammatory testing results were highest in those with the most adherence to the MD, and those with poor adherence showed high inflammatory levels. (High markers of inflammation are linked to chronic disease.)
“…the results were in line with the hypothesis that a Mediterranean dietary pattern is associated with significant amelioration of multiple risk factors, including a better cardiovascular risk profile, reduced oxidative stress and modulation of inflammation.”
CONCLUSION: There are significant health benefits to adhering closely the Mediterranean diet.
NOTE: *BMI is the ratio of the weight in kilograms divided by the height in meters squared.
**Malondialdehyde is a chemical which can be tested in the blood which gives an indication of the amount of fat oxidation in the body.