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Mediterranean Diet May Be Linked with Fewer Deaths Related to Air Pollution

Air pollution is a concern in many countries around the world, so researchers wonder whether a healthy diet may offset some of these risks. To test this theory, researchers followed more than half a million people across 6 states in the US, estimating their exposure to air pollutants and assessing their eating patterns. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were significantly less likely to die from all causes and heart disease specifically over the 17-year study period than those not following a Mediterranean diet, even at the same level of air pollution exposure. The researchers suspect that the antioxidants in the healthy foods of the Mediterranean diet may play a role in this relationship. (Note that findings presented at meetings are typically viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference. San Diego, California. May 21, 2018

Traditional Mediterranean and Japanese Diets Linked with Lower Risk of Death from Heart Disease

At first glance, Japanese and Mediterranean cuisines might seem worlds apart. However, the overall eating patterns share more similarities than one might think. Researchers analyzed the diets and long-term (50-year) data on death from heart disease in 12,763 men in the Seven Countries Study from the 1960s. The researchers noted a very similar eating pattern between the Mediterranean group and the Japanese group, with lots of seafood and vegetables, and low amounts of animal foods and animal fat. They also found that eating more vegetables and starch, and more closely following a “Mediterranean” diet (as the Mediterranean and Japanese groups did) were linked with significantly lower risks of death from heart disease. Sweets, animal foods, and hard fats (like butter or lard) were linked with increased risk.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2018 May 17. (Kromhout D et al.) [Epub ahead of print.]

Olive Oil and Fruit Linked with Less Depression in Elderly

Study after study links a healthy body with a healthy mind, especially in aging populations. To see if diet relates to depressive symptoms, researchers evaluated the eating habits and mental health of nearly 400 Italian adults in their 90s. Those consuming more olive oil and fruit were significantly less likely to have depression than those not getting much olive oil or fruit, though the relationship between higher Mediterranean diet scores and lower risks of depression was not strong enough to be statistically significant.
Journal of Nutrition, Health, & Aging. 2018 May;22(5):569-574. (Pagliai et al.)

Following a Mediterranean-Inspired Diet Linked with 30% Lower Risk of Hearing Loss in Women

Hearing loss is the third most common health problem in the US, so scientists wonder if there might be a relationship between diet and hearing over time. To test this relationship, researchers followed more than 81,000 women for 2 decades, tracking their eating patterns and health outcomes. Those most closely following a Mediterranean-inspired diet were 30% less likely to develop hearing loss over the 20-year study than those not following a Mediterranean diet. Similarly, people whose diets closely adhered to a DASH diet or the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (both of which also prioritize vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and limit red meat and sweets), were also less likely to develop hearing loss over time.
Journal of Nutrition. 2018 May 11. (Curhan SG et al.) [Epub ahead of print]

Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Coconut Oil Produce Lowest Level of Harmful Polar Compounds Upon Heating

Compared with other cooking oils, olive oil has a relatively low smoke point, leading some to wonder how this might impact its healthfulness. In this study, researchers analyzed 10 common cooking oils by heating them up across different temperatures and for different periods of time and analyzing their stability and the production any potentially harmful compounds (such as polar compounds). Interestingly, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil produced significantly lower levels of harmful polar compounds than the other oils, while refined vegetable oils (canola, grapeseed, and rice bran oils) produced the most. Since these experiments were done on the oils themselves, without food, more research is needed to see how cooking different foods in different oils might impact the production of harmful compounds.
ACTA Scientific Nutritional Health. 2018 May 5;2(6):2-11. (Guillaume C et al.)

Low GI Diets with Pasta Can Help Lower Weight, BMI

When pasta dough is extruded through dies during processing, it compacts the starch structure. This is why pasta is a low Glycemic Index (GI) food with a gentler impact on blood sugar. In this study, researchers analyzed the results of 32 randomized controlled trials on the impact of low GI diets with pasta. They found that people eating pasta in the context of a low GI diet can lose weight and improve their BMI. However, there was no noted difference in abdominal fat, waist size, or waist-to-hip ratio after eating low GI diets with pasta.
BMJ Open. 2018 Apr 2;8(3):e019438. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019438. (Chiavaroli L et al.)

Low GI Pasta Meals Can Lead to Weight Loss

Keep the pasta, lose the pounds! Pasta is a low Glycemic Index food, meaning that it doesn’t spike your blood sugar. To see how low glycemic diets with pasta relate to weight, researchers analyzed 32 randomized clinical trial comparisons involving 2,448 adults (who were mostly middle aged and overweight or obese). Compared with high Glycemic Index diets, the low Glycemic Index diets with pasta (about three ½ cup servings per week) were linked with modest weight loss (0.63 kg, or 1.4 pounds), even without cutting calories.
BMJ. 2018 April 4;8(3):1-13. (Chiavaroli L et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Less Fat in Liver

Fatty liver is most commonly associated with alcoholism, but obesity and excess body fat can be risk factors for fatty liver as well (which can eventually develop into liver disease). In a study of 1,521 adults, those most closely following a Mediterranean diet were significantly less likely to have fatty liver in the following year. Specifically, each 1-point increase on the Mediterranean diet score was linked with 26% lower odds of developing fatty liver the next year. Diets reflecting the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (another diet scoring tool that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and limits red meat and sweets) were also linked with a smaller, but still significantly lower risk of fatty liver.
Gastroenterology. 2018 Mar 28. [Epub ahead of print]. (Ma J et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Healthier Bones and Muscles After Menopause

Women lose bone mass during menopause, so strategies to prevent osteoporosis in this population are of utmost importance. In a study of 103 post-menopausal women (average age 55), researchers analyzed their diet and body composition. Most closely following a Mediterranean diet was linked with better muscle mass and greater spine bone mineral density than those not eating Mediterranean foods like olive oil, fish, and grains. (Note that findings presented at meetings are typically viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presented at ENDO 2018: The Endocrine Society Annual Meeting. Chicago, Illinois. March 20, 2018.

Suggested Mechanisms Behind the Health Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

While the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are well-known, the precise mechanisms behind these benefits are unclear. In this review, researchers identified 5 mechanisms which may explain the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Due to the high consumption of healthy fats and fiber, the Mediterranean diet improves cholesterol and decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease. The Mediterranean diet is naturally high in antioxidants, which can help decrease the inflammation associated with heart disease, cancer, and dementia. The Mediterranean diet is also naturally lower in calories but higher in vitamins and minerals than the typical western diet, which may lower the production of hormones and growth factors that are involved in the development of cancer. The emphasis of plant proteins over animal proteins in the Mediterranean diet may help explain why this diet is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Finally, researchers found that the high fiber content of the Mediterranean diet promotes the growth and diversity of good bacteria in the gut.
Journals of Gerontology: Biological Sciences. 2018 Mar 2;73(3):318-326. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glx227. (Tosti, V. et al)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Lower Risk of Agility and Mobility Problems in Aging

Maintaining healthy physical function is important to help seniors live comfortably and independently as they age. To see if diet relates to physical function, researchers analyzed the eating patterns and physical function of 1,630 seniors (ages 60+) in Spain. Those most closely following a Mediterranean Diet (as measured by MEDAS, the Mediterranean Diet Adherence Screener) were 33% less likely to have problems with agility, 31% less likely to have problems with mobility, and 40% less likely to have decreased overall physical function. Note that when eating patterns were analyzed by MDS (the Mediterranean Diet Score, which is less thorough then MEDAS, as it covers fewer foods and doesn’t have specific cut-off points for each food group), the relationship was only statistically significant for physical functioning.
The Journals of Gerontology. 2018 Mar 2;73(3):333-339. (Struijk EA et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Healthy Aging

When it comes to aging healthfully, no eating pattern quite stacks up to the Mediterranean diet. In this study, researchers analyzed the eating patterns of more than 3,000 middle-aged French adults who were free of chronic disease and monitored their health over the next 15 years. Those most closely following a Mediterranean diet in middle age were significantly more likely to age healthfully, meaning that they were free of chronic disease, depression and pain, were able to live independently.
The Journals of Gerontology: Series A.  2018 Mar 2;73(3):347-354. (Assmann KE et al.)

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