The Mediterranean (Med) diet is replete with fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, wholegrains and olive oil, with moderate consumption of fish and chicken. Red meat, sweets and dairy products are eaten sparingly, though red wine is drunk in moderation with meals. Increasingly, it has become the “go-to” diet among doctors as research shows that it reduces the risk of a host of modern-day illnesses, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cardiovascular disease, and the overall risk of premature death.

The diet is a relatively recent phenomenon, not a traditional diet of the region. It was first observed in Greece, Spain and Italy in the years immediately following World War II. It was a style of eating that emerged from war rationing but has since proved remarkably healthy compared to the global increase in consumption of fast foods loaded with sugar, red meat and refined carbohydrates.
And it doesn’t take much to adapt an Indian diet to a Mediterranean one.

In early April, an article in The New England Journal of Medicine headlined Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease With a Mediterranean Diet described the results of a multicentre study in Spain, reawakening the discussion on the Mediterannean diet among researchers and clinicians alike. The study followed 7,447 Spaniards between the ages of 55 and 80 for nearly five years. Among the study participants, more than half (57%) were women and all were at high risk of heart disease. The risk was determined by including in the study people who were smokers, diabetic, or had three of the following conditions—hypertension, elevated LDL cholesterol levels, low levels of HDL, were overweight or obese, or had a history of premature heart disease. The study participants were randomly assigned a Med diet that had either nuts or extra virgin olive oil added to it or were recommended a low-fat diet that didn’t necessarily include olive oil or nuts. In each of the three groups—two Med diet groups and one control/low-fat diet group —nutritionists ran training sessions every quarter where adherence to the diet was determined with a self-administered questionnaire, followed by personalized advice. To figure out if the study participants were actually using the olive oil or eating the nuts, the researchers took urine and blood samples at random at the end of years 1, 3 and 5 to check for olive oil and nut metabolites. Read More

Sujata Kelkar Shetty, PhD, writes on public health issues and is a research scientist trained at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, US.