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Mediterranean Diet May Help Prevent Heart Disease

Researchers analyzed the diets of more than 15,000 adults at risk of heart disease from 39 countries to see if their eating habits were more representative of the Mediterranean diet or the Western diet. In those most closely following a Mediterranean diet, each 1 point increase on the Mediterranean Diet Score was linked with a 7% lower risk of a major heart problem (heart attack, stroke, or death) over the 4 year follow up. Similarly, researchers also calculated a simplified Mediterranean Diet Score for the participants (based only on daily consumption of fruits and vegetables, and weekly consumption of fish and alcohol), and found that each 1 point increase in the simplified Mediterranean Diet Score was linked with a 10% lower risk of major heart problems. Fish and tofu/soybeans were the only individual food groups that were significantly associated with a lower risk of heart problems after adjusting for education, health, and lifestyle factors. Consumption of specific foods common to the Western diet was not significantly linked with heart disease risk in this analysis, leading the scientists to conclude that “Greater consumption of healthy foods may be more important for secondary prevention of coronary artery disease than avoidance of less healthy foods.”
European Heart Journal. 2016 April 24. [Epub ahead of print.] (Stewart RAH et al.)

Med Diet & Diets with Whole Grains May Lower Risk of High Blood Pressure After Gestational Diabetes

Women who have had gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy) are at an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. To see how diet might relate to this trend, researchers monitored the eating patterns and health records of more than 3,800 women who had previously been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. After adjusting for BMI, age, and other demographic factors, the women most closely following a Mediterranean diet had a 30% lower risk of developing high blood pressure over the 18-year study. Similarly, women following other healthy eating patterns (such as the DASH diet) that emphasized fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and were low in red and processed meats, had a 24-28% lower risk of developing high blood pressure.
Hypertension. 2016 April 18. [Epub ahead of print.] (Li S et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Better than Low Fat Diet for Weight Loss, Blood Sugar Control

Those looking to drop the pounds need not eliminate fat from their diet, especially if they follow a Mediterranean diet. To evaluate the Mediterranean diet’s effect on weight loss, researchers reviewed data from 5 randomized controlled trials (one of the strongest types of research studies) encompassing a total of 998 participants. In each of the studies, overweight and obese adults (most having type 2 diabetes or heart disease) were assigned to either a Mediterranean diet, or another diet (low fat, low carbohydrate, or American Diabetes Association diets) for at least a year. Those in the Mediterranean diet groups lost between 9-22 pounds, in line with the results from the low carbohydrate or the American Diabetes Association diet. However, those in the low fat group lost significantly less weight, between 6-11 pounds total. Participants with type 2 diabetes also saw better improvements in blood sugar control on the Mediterranean diet than in other diets.
American Journal of Medicine. 2016 Apr;129(4):407-415.e4. (Mancini JG et al.)

Mediterranean Diet May Slow Down Aging

For the past 5 years European researchers have been conducting a study to see how following the Mediterranean diet affects aging among older adults. The study (known as the NU-AGE consortium) recently ended and the preliminary findings are impressive. Following a Mediterranean diet was linked not only with significantly improved inflammatory markers in the body (which are linked to the aging process), but also with reduced bone loss in people with osteoporosis. A more in-depth analysis of the study is expected to yield further support that following a Mediterranean diet is highly beneficial to our health.
Presentation at the NU-AGE Final Conference. Brussels, Belgium. April 5, 2016.

Pulses May Help Aid Weight Loss

Dietary changes are a key target in obesity prevention programs, so many foods are being studied for their affect on body weight. To see if eating more pulses (the food group that includes beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas) might help reduce obesity, researchers analyzed 21 randomized control trials looking at pulses’ role in weight, body fat, and waist circumference in overweight and obese adults. Diets that included dietary pulses did not significantly reduce waist circumference. There was a trend in reduction of body fat (-0.34%), but it was not significant as well. Overall, the researchers found that those eating about 1 serving of pulses per day lost, on average, about 0.75 pounds over six weeks. Not surprisingly, results were stronger in weight loss diets (3.8 pounds over 6 weeks) than weight maintenance diets (0.6 pounds over 6 weeks). Although the weight loss was small, this study indicates that a modest serving of pulses may help produce weight loss, even without cutting calories.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Mar 30. [Epub Ahead of Print] (Kim SJ et al.)

Med Diet Linked With A Lower Risk for Hip Fractures

While Mediterranean cuisine regularly includes low to moderate amounts of dairy (often from traditional cheeses and yogurts), milk is not as prominent as it is in other eating patterns. Therefore, scientists are very interested in learning more about the bone health of those who follow a Mediterranean diet. To study this relationship, researchers analyzed the diets of 90,000 older women (ages 50-79) from the Women’s Health Initiative cohort for 15 years. They found that those most closely following a Mediterranean diet had a 20% lowered risk for hip fractures than those who did not eat a Mediterranean diet.
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2016 Mar 28. [Epub ahead of print] (Haring B, et al.)

Learning through Playing Helps Kids Understand the Mediterranean Diet

Childhood obesity is a problem across the globe, so public health experts are working to instill the importance of good nutrition in kids from a young age. In a study in Parma, Italy, more than 8,100 children (ages 8-11) had 3 hours of nutrition lessons 3 different times each year, for 2 years in a row. The lessons consisted of hands-on board games and other toys, to help kids understand the importance of Mediterranean diet components, such as fruits and vegetables, or carbohydrates and fiber. After the lessons, student-answered questionnaires showed that cultural nutrition awareness improved for all grade levels. The researchers conclude that “A stable integration of this method in primary school settings could prepare a new generation of citizens, better educated on health-promotion lifestyles.”
International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition. 2016;67(2):207-15. (Rosi A et al.)

Low Level Mercury Exposure from Fish Appears Safe During Pregnancy

Seafood is a staple in many traditional diets, but many wonder if the health benefits of fish consumption outweigh the risk of mercury exposure. In a study of 334 infants in Ohio, researchers assessed the neurobehavior of infants and the fish intake and blood mercury levels in mothers and cord blood. The researchers “found minimal evidence of mercury associated detrimental effects” on the infants, with no statistically significant problems related to level of mercury consumption when other lifestyle and dietary factors were controlled for. In fact, the researchers also observed that the infants with higher (but still safe) blood mercury levels had better attention and less need for special handling, suggesting that the benefits of fish consumption may outweigh the risks of low-level mercury exposure.
Neurotoxicology and Teratology. 2016 Feb 12. Pii: S0892-0362(13)30007-1. (Xu Y et al.)

Gluten Free Med Diet Improves Nutrition in Celiac Patients

Maintaining a healthy weight and optimal nutrition can be a struggle for patients with celiac disease, but nutritious diets can help. In a small Italian study, researchers assigned 39 celiac patients to a Mediterranean gluten-free diet. The scientists found that celiac patients following a gluten free diet based on the Mediterranean diet improved their nutritional status, without inducing overweight or obesity. In fact, two of the four malnourished celiac patients were able to reach a healthy BMI, without becoming overweight or obese.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Jan;70(1):23-7. (Barone M et al.)

Diabetes-Protective Changes to Gut Bacteria after Year on Med Diet

In a small study, Spanish researchers randomly assigned 20 obese men to either a Mediterranean diet, or a low fat, high complex carbohydrate diet (with foods like pasta and cereals) for a year. After a year on their respective diets, both groups saw increases in various gut microbes that are thought to be protective against type 2 diabetes (Roseburia and Parabacteroides  distasonis for Med diet, and Prevotella and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii for low fat, high complex carb diet). The Mediterranean diet group also increased their insulin sensitivity over the year, meaning that their bodies better respond to insulin.
The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2016 Jan;101(1):233-42. (Haro C et al.)

Med Diet Linked with Improved Gut Bacteria

Spanish researchers randomly assigned 239 adults (half with metabolic syndrome, half without) to either a Mediterranean diet, or a low fat, high complex carbohydrate diet (with foods like pasta and cereals) for two years. They found that the Mediterranean diet was able to “restore potentially beneficial members of the gut microbiota,” in patients both with and without metabolic syndrome. The low fat, high complex carbohydrate diet did not result in as many positive changes in gut microbiota as the Mediterranean diet did, although some beneficial changes still occurred.
The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2016 Jan;27:27-31. (Haro C et al.)

Mediterranean Diet During Pregnancy Linked with Lower Abdominal Obesity in Young Children

To see how diet during pregnancy affects the risk of childhood obesity, researchers analyzed data from over 1,800 mother-child pairs. They found that children were less likely to have a high waist circumference (a measure of abdominal obesity) at age 4 if their mothers were most closely following a Mediterranean diet during pregnancy. However, the researchers found no significant relationship between the expectant mothers’ diet and the subsequent BMI of their children in early childhood.
Pediatric Obesity. 2016 Jan 13. (Fernandez-Barres S) [Epub ahead of print]