This style of eating is characterised by consuming fresh, seasonal vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and unrefined grains. There is also the inclusion of uncooked olive oil, and a moderate intake of fish, with smaller amounts of dairy, meat and poultry. Even a moderate amount of red wine is included. However, refined sugars, processed foods, and trans fats are all removed.
Inflammation and the Mediterranean diet
Inflammation is a natural process, a protective mechanism, and the body’s response to infection, illness or injury. As part of this inflammatory response, the body increases production of white blood cells and immune cells in order to fight the infection or virus. This type of inflammation is part of the immune system’s healing response to trauma or infection, and classic signs of acute inflammation include redness, pain, heat and swelling.
However, there’s a second more hidden type of inflammation which is called chronic inflammation which persists ongoing, and sometimes at such low levels that there are few symptoms. In fact, it can occur without any noticeable symptoms at all.
Inflammation is linked to almost every illness or health disorder, which is why the Mediterranean anti-inflammatory diet has shown such positive results in so many conditions (cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, arthritis).
One study, which was lead by the university of Bologna, followed more than 1000 participants, aged 65-79 from five European countries for 12 months. They then found that of those who were randomly assigned to a Mediterranean diet, participants with osteoporosis saw a reduced rate of bone loss, compared to those who didn’t follow the diet.
Anti-aging and telomere length
Research has shown that people who closely follow the Mediterranean style diet have longer telomeres. Telomeres are found at the end of chromosomes, like a protective buffer, and are linked to how well we age, because as we age our telomeres shorten.
Certain types of food intake (processed food, sugars etc) have been shown to accelerate telomere shortening, however the Mediterranean diet slows this process due to the high antioxidant component of wholefoods.
Other studies have shown how an increase in Mediterranean style eating with high fish and vegetable consumption is associated with higher cognitive function. The anti-inflammatory foods in a traditional Mediterranean diet have a protective effect on brain health, which is correlated with a decreased rate of cognitive decline and a lower risk of cognitive impairment.
A 2013 study in the American Academy of Neurology, showed that following a Mediterranean diet may protect the brain. Researchers followed more than 17,000 people and found that those who had a higher adherence to a Mediterranean diet reduced their risk of thinking and memory problems by 19 percent.
Eating fresh wholefoods has shown to improve cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and thereby improve cardiovascular health. Following a Mediterranean diet may lower risk of heart disease through both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Antioxidants fight free radicals and oxidation in the body, which is triggered by exposure to bad food choices (processed foods, sugar) as well as exposure to chemicals, toxins, and stress. One study showed that people who followed a Mediterranean diet had a 30 percent lower risk of heart disease and stroke than those who ate poorly.
A Mediterranean diet causes changes in the bacterial diversity of the gut, which is linked to improvements in overall health and immunity. One study put a group on a Mediterranean diet for one and a half years. Over time, there was an increase in beneficial bacteria in the gut (linked to lower inflammation levels) as well as a decrease in pathogenic microbes.
These changes to gut health improved health outcomes by lowering the incidence of chronic inflammatory disease, improving immunity, and digestive function.
How to incorporate the Mediterranean approach to eating
Good health is achieved by lowering inflammation levels in the body, and this is the reason why the Mediterranean approach works so well. Principles of the Mediterranean diet are easy to incorporate, by sticking to whole foods, rich in seasonal vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, whole grains, and uncooked olive oil. Eating a full variety of colour at each meal. This style of eating contains prebiotics, fibre, as well as being high in antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids. A wonderful side effect is weight loss and glowing skin. Ticking all boxes!
Yvette is a qualified Melbourne-based Naturopath and Nutritionist, MINDD Practitioner, member of the Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia, and Complementary Medicine Association. Yvette specialises in the treatment of conditions commonly affecting women and children, with a key interest in children’s digestive and neurological conditions, as well as women’s hormonal concerns, digestive issues, fatigue, anxiety, and skin concerns. Yvette consults in South Yarra, Melbourne, as well as Australia-wide via skype/zoom/phone. Book here.