The Mediterranean Diet tied for first place in the 2018 U.S. News & World Report Best Overall Diet category.1 It also ran away with the top honor for the easiest-to-follow diet.

It took top rankings in other categories as well, tying for first place for the best diet for a person with diabetes and tying for second place for the best diet to prevent heart disease (the top honor for the best diet to prevent heart disease went to the DASH diet, which is similar to the Mediterranean Diet but restricts salt intake). Nutrition experts applauded U.S. News & World Report’s focus on healthy, rather than fad, diets.

But is all the hype for real, is there really something to the hype for this diet? The answer is a resounding “yes” – because a significant body of very legitimate evidence points to its health benefits.

Long-term research has conclusively demonstrated that the diet eaten in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean Sea can improve your health in myriad ways.

What is the Mediterranean diet?

The Mediterranean Diet consists of large amounts of fresh vegetables and moderate amounts of fruit, in addition to whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Fish, and to a lesser extent lean meat and poultry, are eaten in moderation.

Fresh fruit is the typical daily dessert and olive oil (a monounsaturated fat – MUFA for short) is the primary source of fat.

Red wine can be consumed in moderation. A plate of food should look fresh and colorful. The more different colored vegetables there are on the plate, the wider the array of health-promoting antioxidants and flavonoids there are hiding inside.

The Mediterranean Diet discourages fried foods, hydrogenated oils, refined carbohydrates (baked goods from refined flour and sugary desserts), beverages with added sweeteners (sodas and juices), high-fructose corn syrup, and fatty, processed meats, such as lunch meat, bologna, and ham.

The Thorne Modified MediTerranean Diet

The Thorne Modified MediTerranean Diet goes a step further to help assure you are not including common allergens, such as gluten, in your diet that can contribute to inflammation and weight gain. The dietary guidelines will also help steer you toward lower carbohydrate foods to help manage healthy blood sugar levels.

Chronic diseases

Very credible research shows the Mediterranean Diet provides protection against diseases such as heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, cognitive dysfunction, and arthritis – all chronic conditions associated with inflammation.

Which is why it is not lost on health-care practitioners that the components of the Mediterranean Diet exert an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.

Trials have shown that a diet that is high in MUFAs can definitely lower inflammatory markers, including tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), metallo-proteinase-2, and nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-κB).2

And it is well known that omega-3 fatty acids included in the diet from fish, the antioxidants from fresh vegetables, and the flavonoids from berries and other fruits also exert an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.

Persuasive evidence also supports the Mediterranean Diet as an “anti-cancer diet.” In one study, 250 women with newly diagnosed breast cancer were compared to women of the same age who did not have cancer. Adherence to a Mediterranean Diet was assessed and found to significantly decrease breast cancer risk.

The factors that had the most influence on decreasing cancer risk were unrefined grains, vegetables, and fruits – all of which translate to high levels of dietary fiber and antioxidants.3

Another study showed that women whose diet included more fish and olive oil had a lower risk of breast cancer than those women who did not. This same study also found an even stronger protective effect from eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables.4

Vegetables and fruits are high in fiber, which creates a healthy intestinal environment by promoting beneficial bacteria and fatty acids. Fiber increases butyric acid levels in the colon – the fuel for colon cells.

A healthy level of beneficial bacteria and butyric acid can decrease inflammation in the colon and decrease the risk of inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer. Fiber also improves bowel health because the by-products of food digestion don’t “sit” in the intestines and create toxic substances.

Metabolic health and diabetes

The Mediterranean Diet can provide particular benefit for cardio-metabolic health and diabetes. Studies in both men and women with metabolic syndrome have shown that the diet lowers LDL-cholesterol and decreases LDL oxidation.5,6

A meta-analysis of 56 trials comparing nine different dietary approaches found the Mediterranean Diet was the most effective for aiding blood sugar control in individuals with type 2 diabetes.7

A meta-analysis of 29 studies found that following the Mediterranean Diet can decrease the risk for coronary heart disease and ischemic stroke.8

Stress

When you are confronted with a stressful situation, your body secretes cortisol from your two adrenal glands to help deal with that stress. However, long-term stress can cause chronically elevated cortisol, or, in other words, abnormal cortisol fluctuations.

In one study of 41 women from the Mediterranean region, high MUFA intake from olive oil was associated with normal cortisol fluctuations.

These women showed higher levels of cortisol in the morning with cortisol levels falling throughout the day and being at their lowest at night – which is clearly in line with normal cortisol fluctuation patterns.

On the other hand, women who in general ate higher levels of fat, and in particular saturated fats such as is found in fatty meats, demonstrated abnormal cortisol patterns.How are your cortisol levels?

Fertility

Are you a woman of childbearing age who is trying to optimize your fertility? There is even scientific evidence that indicates the Mediterranean Diet might improve a woman’s chance of becoming pregnant.

One study showed that women on the Mediterranean Diet compared to women on a Western diet (higher in meat, fried foods, and simple carbs) were less likely to have fertility issues.10

A similar study found that the Mediterranean Diet increased the likelihood of becoming pregnant by 40% in women undergoing in vitro fertilization.11 What does your fertility health look like?

These are but a sampling of the multitude of studies linking the Mediterranean Diet to health benefits. A search on PubMed for studies on the Mediterranean Diet yields over 5,000 studies.


References

  1. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/890919?nlid=119975_1521&src=WNL_mdplsfeat_180109_mscpedit_wir&uac=99948DT&spon=17&impID=1530174&faf=1 [Accessed 1.10.18]
  2. Cruz-Teno C, Pérez-Martínez P, Delgado-Lista J, et al. Dietary fat modifies the postprandial inflammatory state in subjects with metabolic syndrome: the LIPGENE study. Mol Nutr Food Res 2012;56:854-865.
  3. Mourouti N, Kontogianni M, Papavagelis C, et al. Adherence to the Mediterranean Diet is associated with lower likelihood of breast cancer: a case-control study. Nutr Cancer 2014;66:810-817.
  4. Mourouti N, Papavagelis C, Plytzanopoulou P. Dietary patterns and breast cancer: a case-control study in women. Eur J Nutr 2014 Jul 22. [Epub ahead of print]
  5. Barona J, Jones J, Kopec R, et al. A Mediterranean-style low-glycemic-load diet increases plasma carotenoids and decreases LDL oxidation in women with metabolic syndrome. Nutr Biochem 2012;23:609-615.
  6. Richard C, Couture P, Desroches S, et al. Effect of the Mediterranean Diet with and without weight loss on surrogate markers of cholesterol homeostasis in men with the metabolic syndrome. Br J Nutr 2012;107:705-711.
  7. Schwingshackl L, Chaimani A, Hoffmann G. A network meta-analysis on the comparative efficacy of different dietary approaches on glycaemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Eur J Epidemiol 2018 Jan 4. doi: 10.1007/s10654-017-0352-x. [Epub ahead of print]
  8. Rosato V, Temple N, La Vecchia C, et al. Mediterranean Diet and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Eur J Nutr 2017 Nov 25. doi: 10.1007/s00394-017-1582-0. [Epub ahead of print]
  9. García-Prieto M, Tébar F, Nicolás F, et al. Cortisol secretory pattern and glucocorticoid feedback sensitivity in women from a Mediterranean area: relationship with anthropometric characteristics, dietary intake and plasma fatty acid profile. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 2007;66(2):185-191.
  10. Toledo E, Lopez-del Burgo C, Ruiz-Zambrana A, et al. Dietary patterns and difficulty conceiving: a nested case-control study. Fertil Steril 2011;96(5):1149-1153.
  11. Vujkovic M, de Vries J, Lindemans J, et al. The preconception Mediterranean dietary pattern in couples undergoing in vitro fertilization/intracytoplasmic sperm injection treatment increases the chance of pregnancy. Fertil Steril 2010;94(6):2096-2101.