The Mediterranean diet doesn’t just ensure weight loss and better cardiovascular health. It also helps keep cancer and depression at bay.
It was in 1975 that American biologist first tried to publicise the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, but it is only in recent months that the far-reaching implications and advantages of this way of eating are being understood. While a number of diets have proved to be effective tools for fat-reduction and cholestrol control, the Mediterranean diet -which includes low consumption of dairy products, meat and poultry, and mild to moderate intakes of alcohol -has been associated with less brain shrinkage, decreased mortality, the combat of depression and breast cancer. Unlike other counterparts, the Mediterranean diet is not about quick fix solutions. Nor is it a strict list of what you should not eat. Rather, it is a formula for healthy everyday eating over the long term.
Given here are pointers for those who’d like to adopt it.
– Maximise your intake of vegetables, peas and beans, fruits and wholegrain cereals.
– Try and give up on red meat. Get your protein from skinless chicken, fish, beans, nuts and other plants.
– Replace butter with healthy oils as often as possible.
– Limit your intake of highly processed `fast foods’ and `ready meals’, where you cannot tell saturated fat and salt intake.
– Eat no more than moderate amounts of dairy products, and preferably low-fat ones.
– Do not add salt to your food at the table. There is already plenty there.
– Snack on nuts, seeds or low-fat cheese or dairy instead of processed snack foods.
– If you drink, moderate your consumption to no more than a glass or two with a meal.
– Water is the best `non-alcoholic beverage’ (as opposed to sugary drinks).
With genetics playing a minimal role in its efficacy, the Mediterranean diet is one that can easily be adapted for the Indian palate. Better cardiovascular health is one of its obvious advantages, but a string of recent studies have also shown that the list of its benefits is longer and more substantial.
IT HELPS KEEP BRAIN CELLS YOUTHFUL
According to new research, eating a Mediterranean diet rich in vegetables, fruit, fish, and olive oil may help preserve brain cells as we age. A study of 674 people with an average age of 80 showed that those following a Mediterranean-like diet had larger brains. By volume, they had five millilitres more nerve cells and 6.41 millilitres more nerve fibres than those with different dietary habits. The findings were published online in the journal Neurology.
Lead scientist Dr Yian Gu, from Columbia University in New York, says, “These results are exciting, as they raise the possibility that people may potentially prevent brain shrinking and the effects of ageing on the brain simply by following a healthy diet.” Dr James Pickett, head of research at Alzheimer’s Society, adds, “There is an increasing amount of evidence that eating a healthy diet, rich in fish, vegetables, legumes and nuts is good for your brain. This study delves further into the potential benefits that diet could have, but it does not prove that a Mediterranean-style diet can stop your brain from shrinking as you age. Other key ways to keep your brain healthy is to take as much physical exercise as you can, stop smoking and keep your blood pressure in check.”
IT REDUCES THE RISK OF DEPRESSION
A study, involving more than 15,000 people, shows a diet loaded with fruit, vegetables, beans and nuts and olive oil, with low levels of processed meats, could prevent the onset of depression.Researchers, whose findings were published in the journal BMC Medicine, looked at the impact of three major diets on mental health: the Pro-vegetarian Dietary Pattern; the Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 and the Mediterranean diet. Meat, sweets and other sources of animal fats and trans and saturated fatty acids scored low, while nuts, fruits, veg and other sources of omega-4 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, scored highly. Ten years later, the participants were asked to complete another survey on their diets. A total of 1,550 participants reported a clinical diagnosis of depression or had used antidepressant drugs since the study began.
The Alternative Healthy Eating Index-2010 was found to be associated with the greatest reduction of the risk of depression, but most of its effect could be associated with the major elements of the Mediterranean Diet. So scientists say common nutrients and food items such as omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and moderate alcohol intake present in both patterns could be responsible for cutting the risk of depression.
Author Dr Almudena Sanchez Villegas, from the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, says, “The protective role is ascribed to the foods’ nutritional properties, where nuts, legumes, fruits and vegetables, all sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, could reduce the risk of depression.” A threshold effect may exist. The noticeable difference occurs when participants start to follow a healthier diet.Even a moderate adherence to these healthy dietary patterns was associated with an important reduction in the risk of developing depression.
A new study has suggested that Mediterranean diet, favoured by people in countries such as Spain, Greece and Italy, keeps breast cancer at bay. The research showed that eating a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil was associated with a relatively lower risk of breast cancer in a study of women in Spain. Researchers analysed the effects of two interventions with the Mediterranean diet -supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts -compared with advice to women to follow a low-fat diet. The study participants were given one litre per week of their extra virgin olive oil for themselves and their families. The researchers found that women eating a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil showed a 68 per cent relatively lower risk of malignant breast cancer than those allocated to the control diet.
Lead author Dr Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez, of the University of Navarra in Spain, says, “The results suggest a beneficial effect of a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil in the primary prevention of breast cancer. Preventative strategies represent the most sensible approach against cancer.” He went on to add, “We hope to see more emphasis on Mediterranean diet to reduce cancer and cardiovascular disease and improve health and well-being.”
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