The evidence base for the colourful Mediterranean Diet is now huge. It started life as the ‘Seven Countries Study’ (those where olive trees grew) as long ago as the 1950s when researchers first compared the longevity of people living on the North shore of the Mediterranean with populations in Northern Europe and America. A further study in the mid-80s (Keys et al) concluded that the benefits stemmed (in no particular order) from the consumption of olive oil, fresh vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds, high fish consumption, but only modest consumption of meat and cows’ dairy. Integral though was the consumption of red wine.
We shall look further at all these factors.
The period from 2010 brought vast amounts of new evidence to the table. For example, Kasterini et al in a meta-analysis of 50 studies showed that the diet normalized blood sugar, iron and insulin levels and improved metabolic function. This was associated with less cardiac and diabetes risk.
One recurring theme is the high polyphenol concentrations in the vegetables, fruits and olive oil. Not surprisingly, the Rainbow diet has been found to be dose-dependent: Yes, the more good things you eat, the healthier you become. In one study where the colourful Mediterranean Diet was supplemented with even more olive oil than usual, type-2 diabetes risk fell a further 40 per cent!
Many of the ingredients have been shown to be synergistic too; the more variety you eat, the better your health. For example, several separate studies have shown that consuming olive oil polyphenols in combination with fish omega-3 confers far greater protection for the heart and cardiovascular system than either on its own.
The large-scale PREDIMED study showed that the diet prevented heart disease, cardiovascular disease, strokes and hardening of the arteries. Various Harvard Health studies have confirmed this, along with benefits in counteracting age-related memory decline, type-2 diabetes, and cancer, largely by preventing both oxidation and inflammation.
There is an ‘ADDED EXTRA’ to the colourful Mediterranean Diet. On its own it has major and undeniable health benefits. But as part of a total lifestyle, these benefits multiply enormously. Harvard Medical School in JAMA presented a study looking at various lifestyle factors of the diet. Some like the traditional family lunches and dinners and sharing aspects were hard to quantify. But they did quantify the effects of non-smoking, exercise, diet and alcohol.
In an 11-year study with people aged 70 – 90 years, they concluded that the benefits of diet, exercise, non-smoking and alcohol were ‘dramatic’. People who followed the overall plan cut cancer risk and heart disease risk by 65 per cent. Individual elements made their own contribution:
Consuming alcohol: 22%
So from now on in this book we shall cover some of the wider aspects of the Rainbow Diet. Far more can be found in our main book ‘The Rainbow Diet’, or on www.the-rainbow-diet.com.