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Mediterranean Diet Is Linked with Specific Patterns in Gut Microbiota

Although the science is still young, researchers are finding that the foods we eat may influence the bacteria that inhabit our gut. To see how the Mediterranean Diet relates to the gut microbiome, researchers analyzed the diet and gut microbiome of 120 Greek adults. Participants most closely following the Mediterranean diet had lower E.coli levels and a higher bifidobacteria: E. coli ratio, among other favorable microbiome characteristics.
British Journal of Nutrition. 2017 June 5;117(12):1645-1655. (Mitsou EK et al.) 

Pasta Meals Linked with Better Blood Sugar Response

Many are surprised to learn that pasta has a low glycemic index, meaning that it doesn’t spike your blood sugar as much as some other carbohydrate foods, like bread or potatoes. To see how pasta meals relate to health in a broader context, researchers analyzed 18 studies comparing the effects of pasta meals to other types of meals. They found that pasta meals are linked with a lower post-meal blood sugar response than bread- or potato-based meals. However, more research is needed to study how different types of meals relate to cardio-metabolic disease.
Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases. 2017 Jul 18. pii: S0939-4753(17)30160-6. (Huang M et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Associated with Reduced Risk of Frailty

The Mediterranean diet is well known for its ties to healthy aging, but researchers wonder how the Mediterranean diet relates to frailty. In this study, frailty was defined as having at least three of these characteristics: unintentional weight loss, exhaustion, slowness, weakness, and low physical activity. Of the 560 participants, the researchers found that closely following a Mediterranean diet was linked with a 68% lower risk of incident frailty over time and 62% decreased risk of frailty two years later, compared with those not closely following a Mediterranean diet. Following a Mediterranean diet was also linked with a significantly lower risk of poor muscle strength, slowness, and low physical activity.
Clinical Nutrition. 2017 May. [Epub ahead of print.] (Rahi B et al.)

Mediterranean-Based Diets Associated with Better Cognitive Function

Dementia is a serious neurological disease, so preventive measures are an important area of research.  In a study of 5,907 adults, researchers analyzed whether the Mediterranean diet and/or the MIND diet  (a diet similar to the Mediterranean diet, full of “brain-healthy” foods like leafy greens, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, seafood, poultry, olive oil, and wine) have an effect on cognitive performance. Researchers found that those most closely following the Mediterranean Diet had 35% lower odds of having poor cognitive performance (assessed through tests of memory and attention), when compared to those not following a Mediterranean Diet. Results were similar for the MIND diet, probably because there is so much overlap in these two eating patterns.
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. 25 April 2017. [Epub ahead of print.]  (McEvoy CT, et al.)

Mediterranean Diet & Healthy Nordic Diet Linked with Better Survival in Colorectal Cancer

Although food traditions vary from country to country, many traditional healthy diets are rooted in wholesome plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. In a study of 1404 people who had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer at least six years prior, researchers analyzed their eating patterns based on how closely they aligned with a Mediterranean diet (fruits, vegetables, grains, unsaturated fats, legumes, moderate alcohol) and a healthy Nordic diet (fish, root vegetables, whole grain bread and oatmeal, apples, pears, cabbage). Those who most closely followed a Mediterranean diet were significantly less likely to die during the study period than those not following a Mediterranean diet. Similarly, each 1-point increase on the Modified Mediterranean Diet Score or the Healthy Nordic Food Index was linked with improved survival.
Journal of Nutrition. 2017 Apr;147(4):636-644. (Ratjen I et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Smaller Waists, Lower Inflammation, Lower Risk of Insulin Resistance in a Non-Mediterranean Population

Even if you don’t live in the Mediterranean, you can still follow a Mediterranean diet pattern emphasizing healthy foods like fish, whole grains, legumes, and olive oil. In a study of 1,194 Puerto Rican adults in the U.S., researchers analyzed their diets using several different health scores and also collected health measurements from the participants to look for relationships between diet and cardiometabolic health. Those whose diets most closely aligned with a Mediterranean diet were significantly more likely to have smaller waist sizes, a lower BMI, lower levels of inflammation (as measured by C-reactive protein), and lower levels of insulin resistance. The DASH Diet score and Healthy Eating Index 2005 score were not significantly associated with any health measurement, while the Alternative Healthy Eating Index was only weakly associated with some positive health markers.
The Journal of Nutrition. 2017 Apr;147(4):661-669. doi: 10.3945/jn.116.245431. Epub 2017 Mar 8. (Mattei J et al.)

School-Based Mediterranean Diet Program Linked with Less Obesity, Healthier Blood Pressure in Teens

Childhood obesity is a growing problem around the world, and in developed countries, it is estimated that ⅓ of children are overweight or obese. In a study of 1,032 Greek teenagers (average age = 14), researchers tested a 6-month school-based nutrition education intervention, based on the principles of the Mediterranean Diet. Following the intervention, the researchers found significant decreases in overweight and obesity, abdominal obesity (specifically waist circumference), and blood pressure.
European Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2017 Apr 13. [Epub ahead of print] (Bacopoulou F et al.)

Olive Oil Linked with Prevention & Management of Type 2 Diabetes

Olive oil is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, an eating pattern praised for its links to good health and wellbeing. To see how olive oil relates to type 2 diabetes, researchers in Europe analyzed data from 4 cohort studies (following people over time and monitoring their health) and 29 clinical trials (randomly assigning people to diets with or without olive oil). They found that those consuming the most olive oil had a 16% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those consuming the least olive oil, with every 2 teaspoon increase in olive oil daily linked with a 9% lower risk. For patients who already had type 2 diabetes, adding olive oil to their diet significantly lowered their HbA1c, an indicator of better blood sugar control.
Nutrition & Diabetes. 2017 Apr 10;7(4):e262. (Schwingshackl L et al.)

Healthy Diets (Such as Mediterranean Diet) Linked with Better Sperm Quality

For couples trying to get pregnant, a healthy diet may help tilt the odds in their favor. To see what types of foods are associated with better male fertility and healthy sperm quality, researchers analyzed data on eating patterns and male fertility in 35 observational studies from around the world. They found that a healthy diet (e.g. a Mediterranean diet) with lots of seafood, poultry, vegetables, fruits, low fat dairy, and grains is associated with better sperm quality. They also found that in some studies, processed meat, soy foods,  potatoes, full fat dairy, coffee, alcohol, sugary drinks, and sweets were linked with poor sperm quality and male infertility.
Human Reproduction Update. 2017 Mar 10:1-19. (Salas-Huetos A et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with up to 40% Lower Risk of Breast Cancer

About ⅓ of breast cancer cases are hormone-receptor-negative, meaning that they are unlikely to respond to hormonal therapy. To see if diet relates to breast cancer risk, researchers analyzed the eating habits and health outcomes of more than 62,500 post-menopausal Dutch women for about 20 years. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were 40% less likely to develop estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer, although overall breast cancer risk and the risk for other types of breast cancer were not significantly lower. Nut intake was the only food significantly associated with a lower risk of estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer. For total and estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer, whole grain intake contributed the most to the lower risk, although not significantly.
International Journal of Cancer. 2017 Mar 5. [Epub ahead of print] (van den Brandt PA).

Legumes Linked with Heart Health

Legumes, the food group that includes beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts, are central to traditional diets around the world. To see how legumes relate to heart health, scientists reviewed 14 studies with 367,000 participants in both Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean populations. They found that a high intake of legumes (roughly less than one serving per day, or three to four servings per week) was associated with a 6% lower risk of any heart disease, and a 10% lower risk of coronary heart disease specifically. However, no association was found between legume consumption and stroke risk.
Journal of Public Health Nutrition. 2017 Feb;20(2):245-254. (Marventano S et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Improves Function of Good Cholesterol

HDL is often referred to as good cholesterol, because it helps take “bad” (LDL) cholesterol from the bloodstream back to the liver for removal, protects blood vessels, and acts as an antioxidant. We used to only be able to measure the amount of HDL, but now, scientists are able to measure how well the HDL is functioning as well. To see how a Mediterranean diet affects HDL function, researchers analyzed data from 296 participants in the PREDIMED trial (a randomized, controlled study where people at risk of heart disease were assigned to either a Mediterranean diet with nuts, a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, or a low fat diet). Both Mediterranean diet groups improved cholesterol efflux capacity (how well the LDL is transported out by the HDL). However, the olive oil group also had improved HDL antioxidant properties, and improved blood vessel protection.
Circulation. 2017 Feb 14;135(7):633-643. (Hernaez A et al.)