March 07, 2011
Mediterranean Diet Meta-Analysis Finds Benefits

A meta-analysis finds the Mediterranean diet has proven benefits.

The Mediterranean diet has proven beneficial effects not only regarding metabolic syndrome, but also on its individual components including waist circumference, HDL-cholesterol levels, triglycerides levels, blood pressure levels and glucose metabolism, according to a new study published in the March 15, 2011, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. The study is a meta-analysis, including results of 50 studies on the Mediterranean diet, with an overall studied population of about half a million subjects.

Here's the diet in broad outline:

The Mediterranean diet is a dietary pattern characterized by high consumption of monounsaturated fatty acids, primarily from olives and olive oils; daily consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, and low-fat dairy products; weekly consumption of fish, poultry, tree nuts, and legumes; a relatively low consumption of red meat; and a moderate daily consumption of alcohol, normally with meals.

Out of that list what are the good foods versus the less bad foods? Are whole grains beneficial or less bad? Are low-fat dairy products beneficial or less bad? A previous study provides clues to these questions.

Curiously the admonitions against eating lots of red meat put the Mediterranean diet at odds with most versions of the Paleo Diet. I'd like to see the Mediterranean and Paleo diets compared by blood triglycerides and blood sugar.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 March 07 10:56 PM  Aging Diet Studies

Lou Pagnucco said at March 8, 2011 8:55 AM:

Unless I overlooked it, these studies do not measure caloric intake, processed food consumption or glycemic load.
This may be a serious flaw.

Your study allowed the Med-diet group to include margarine.
This may mean that transfats (in margarine, or margarine containing pastries) could have confounded the result.

Bruce said at March 8, 2011 1:01 PM:

Lou, they allowed alpha-linolenic acid fats.

Which means they probably allowed partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

Avoidance of butter is not necessarily safe.

Tuck said at March 8, 2011 6:07 PM:

Lou, margarine is about as safe as the canola oil the "Mediterranean" diet allows. The fact is, no one eats the "Mediterranean diet". Greeks eat full-fat dairy, Italians eat lard, the French eat all the butter and cheese they can get their hands on, and they all eat all yogurt and all the meat they can afford.

The same folks telling you to eat the Mediterranean diet are the folks who were telling you to eat trans-fat margarine a few years ago. I will continue to ignore their bad advice.

PacRim Jim said at March 8, 2011 7:00 PM:

The optimal diet must be appropriate to one's age and health, not to mention one's genome and epigenome.

One size definitely does not fit all.

Jay said at March 9, 2011 6:24 AM:

Traditional mediterraneans never had low fat dairy or lean meat. They ate full fat and whatever meat they could afford, including the fats and organs. And they don't mention the most important part - HUMMUS!

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said at March 9, 2011 11:35 AM:

Meh, keeping below 100 carbs a day (better yet, less than 50) would do a lot more for the average overweight American than anything else. I prescribe bacon and eggs, and lots of it!

Shannon Love said at March 9, 2011 12:25 PM:

The vast majority of these studies of the "Mediterranean" diet are of necessity, based on studies of people in the actual Mediterranean. It never seems to occur to researchers that people eating the same diet as 80-160 generations of ancestors might actually have genomes that evolved to be optimized for that diet. It doesn't follow that, say, Intuits would far better on such a diet than they would of one based on the Intuit traditional diet.

Further, I looked at one study done in Italy and I'm pretty sure the actual breakdown was rural vs urban. Rural people ate a more traditional diet without the junk food and, oh yeah, got a lot more exercise. I can't but wonder how many of these studies have a similar breakdown and how many attempted to control for it.

Lastly, I can't help but notice that in all areas outside the actual Mediterranean, that diet just so happens to be the diet of elite, wealthy, high-status, cosmopolitans. Since we have made diet a virtue in our culture we seem by some mysterious mechanism to find that the foods that are the expensive, rare and requiring the most skill and time to prepare suddenly become the "healthiest."

Well, it's actually not so mysterious. If you look at nutritional fads and science since the early 19th century you see the diet of the wealthy constituently ranked as the healthiest. Sometimes you see a brief counter reaction to a "rugged peasant diet" but those never last. The diet of the middle class is never considered healthy. E.g. Prior to 60s. Eating a lot of red meat required an upper class income and red meat was a wonder food and nutritionist fretted about protein decency. After WWII, when middle-class and then poor people could afford to eat red meat daily, concern that red meat was bad for you gradually built.

This history strongly suggests that social-status bias heavily influence nutrition research. Overtime, whatever food is common becomes considered bad for you and whatever food is the food of elites becomes good for you. Always, foods that require virtuous self-denial are always good for you.

astonerii said at March 9, 2011 2:22 PM:

"Always, foods that require virtuous self-denial are always good for you. "

Seems to be a pretty stupid way for natural selection to have come out for humans one would think. You would think that the foods that taste good and you enjoy would be healthy for you, as if you enjoy eating good nutritious food, you would be more healthy by virtue of eating more healthy food. Ah, I am 100% certain that the same people who foist the nasty tasteless food onto the dieters are the exact same people who think Darwin killed God forever.

CJ said at March 9, 2011 4:41 PM:

It's low to laugh at typos and spelling mistakes, and Shannon Love makes an interesting point, but "Intuits" cracked me up.

Steven said at March 10, 2011 2:31 PM:

I think Shannon has in interesting point; however, I believe there is still a fairly well-documented correlation between socioeconomic status and obesity. It is probably accurate to say that the "wealthy elite" are, in general, less likely to be overweight/obese than those in the middle or lower classes. Whether that is due to a healthier diet or the ability to afford costly weight loss surgery is up for debate. However, I'm of the opinion that the "Mediterranean diet" as most people know it (even if it's not what "real" Mediterraneans eat) is very healthy and can, indeed, lead to weight loss and stable cholesterol levels. Many aspects of the Mediterranean diet are things that I recommend to my diabetic and high-cholesterol patients on a daily basis (I'm a cardiologist).

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