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Mediterranean Inspired MIND Diet Linked with Healthier Brain Markers in MS

The Mediterranean diet is well-known for its brain benefits, so scientists wonder how Mediterranean-inspired eating might relate to multiple sclerosis (MS), a brain and spinal cord autoimmune disease. Researchers analyzed the eating habits and brain structures of 180 adults who have had a diagnosis of MS for less than 5 years to see how closely they adhered to a version of the Mediterranean diet called the MIND diet. The MIND diet is a hybrid Mediterranean-DASH diet that emphasizes foods associated with brain health, including whole grains, green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, olive oil, and fish. In this study, people most closely following the MIND diet had significantly greater thalamic volumes. (The wasting away of the thalamus is a marker of MS disease progression and neurodegeneration, so greater thalamic volume is a good sign that MS might be advancing slower.) Additionally, when looking at specific foods and nutrients, those eating the most full-fat dairy had fewer brain lesions (as measured by lower volumes of T2 lesions) and those eating the most omega-3’s from fish had better microstructural integrity of their normal appearing white matter.
Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders. 2021 May 19;53:103031. doi: 10.1016/j.msard.2021.103031. (Katz Sand IB et al.)

Mediterranean Diet Linked with Longer Lives

The secret to longer life just might be in your kitchen. A large study of 5,094 Italian men was conducted over a seven-year period to see how their daily diets and lifestyle habits affected mortality rates. Those most closely following the Mediterranean diet were less likely to die over the study period. Additionally, the researchers also found a significant relationship between lower death risk and eating higher amounts of vegetables, proteins, fats, starch, folic acid, and monounsaturated fats from plant-based sources (mostly from olive oil). On the other hand, animal fats and sugar were linked with a greater risk of death over the study period.
Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases. 2020 Sept 24;30(10):1673-1678. doi.10.1016/j.numecd.2020.05.034 (Trevisan M et al.)

Mediterranean Lifestyle Linked with Lower Risk of High Blood Pressure in Firefighter Recruits

A Mediterranean diet based on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, olive oil, beans, and fermented dairy is a delicious blueprint for good health. However, lifestyle elements in addition to diet can also make a difference. In a study of 92 (mostly male) firefighter recruits in New England, those who most closely follow a Mediterranean lifestyle (as defined by eating a Mediterranean diet, adequate sleep, lower screen time, lower BMI, exercising, and not smoking) were significantly less likely to have high blood pressure, and were significantly more likely to have better aerobic capacity (a measure of the ability to provide oxygen to muscles).
Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine. 2020 Jul;62(7): 466–471. doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001868 (Lan FY et al.)

Spaniards Locked Down During COVID-19 Shift Back to Traditional Mediterranean Diet

Lockdowns and restaurant closures related to the global COVID-19 pandemic have swiftly changed the way people eat, leaving many people with little choice but to eat more home-cooked meals. Researchers analyzed the diets of 7,514 Spaniards during the COVID-19 pandemic, and also asked them about their eating habits before the pandemic. During the pandemic, when people were forced to eat more home-cooked meals, researchers noted that the Mediterranean diet score of these participants (a measure of how closely people follow the Mediterranean diet) significantly increased. The people who improved their diet reported eating more olive oil, vegetables, fruits, or legumes, and less fried foods, snacks, fast foods, red meat, pastries, or sweetened drinks. The authors conclude that, “this improvement, if sustained in the long-term, could have a positive impact on the prevention of chronic diseases and COVID-19-related complications.”
Nutrients. 2020 Jun 10;12(6):E1730. doi: 10.3390/nu12061730.(Rodríguez-Pérez C et al.)

Olive Oil Linked with Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Not all fats are created equal. Olive oil is a source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and polyphenols, while butter is a source of saturated fats. In this study, researchers followed more than 90,000 people for 24 years. Those eating more than ½ tablespoon of olive oil per day had a 14-17% lower risk of heart disease compared with people who didn’t eat olive oil. The scientists also found that replacing 5g/day of butter, margarine, mayonnaise, or dairy fat with the equivalent amount of olive oil was also linked with a 5-7% lower risk of heart disease.
J Am Coll Cardiol. 2020 Apr 21;75(15):1729-1739. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2020.02.036. Epub 2020 Mar 5. (Guasch-Ferré M et al.)

Cooking Olive Oil at Lower Temperatures Retains More of the Healthy Polyphenols

Olive oil is famously healthy due in part to its polyphenol content, and researchers wonder if cooking the olive oil degrades any of its nutritional properties. In this study, research tested the phenolic content of olive oil after sautéing it at medium (about 250°F) and high (about 340°F) temperatures on the stovetop over various periods of time (15-60 minutes) to replicate home cooking. They found that temperature had a much bigger impact than time, and that cooking at a medium temperature on the stovetop decreased polyphenol content by 40%, and that cooking at a high temperature on the stovetop decreased polyphenol content by 75%. Nonetheless, they found that cooked olive oil still meets the parameters of the EU’s health claim, as it still has the level of polyphenols necessary to prevent LDL oxidation. (LDL oxidation is the creation of a dangerous type of cholesterol that can clog arteries).
Antioxidants. 2020 Jan 16;9(1). pii: E77. doi: 10.3390/antiox9010077. (Lozano-Castellón J et al.)

Mediterranean Diet with Olive Oil May Delay Need for Meds in People with Type 2 Diabetes

People with diabetes often need to control their blood sugar using injectable or oral medications, such as insulin. In this study, researchers followed 3,230 people with type 2 diabetes who had been randomly assigned to either a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, a Mediterranean diet with nuts, or a low-fat control diet, and analyzed how the patients managed their blood sugar. Those in the Mediterranean diet with olive oil plan were significantly less likely to need new blood-sugar lowering medications at the 3-year and 5-year follow-up than the low-fat control group. The benefit of the Mediterranean diet with nuts group was not strong enough to be statistically significant. However, it should be noted that 22% of calories in the Mediterranean diet plus olive oil group came from olive oil, while only 8% of the calories in the Mediterranean diet plus nuts group came from nuts.
Diabetes Care. 2019 Aug;42(8):1390-1397. doi: 10.2337/dc18-2475. (Basterra-Gortari FJ et al.)

More Exposure to Nutritious, Bitter Staples of Med Diet May Improve Consumer Acceptability

Many bitter foods, such as green vegetables, contain a wealth of antioxidants and essential vitamins and minerals. In this review, scientists analyzed existing research on consumer opinions of two bitter-tasting, healthful essentials of the Mediterranean diet: extra virgin olive oil and brassicaceae vegetables (the family of vegetables that includes broccoli and arugula). They found the most important factor in influencing someone’s perception of these bitter foods is exposure, meaning the more often someone tries these foods, the more likely they’ll be to like them. They also note that music and certain food pairings can make these bitter foods appear to taste less bitter to consumers. In certain demographics (women and elderly consumers), promoting the healthfulness of these bitter foods can also improve acceptability.
Nutrients. 2019 May 24;11(5). pii: E1164. doi: 10.3390/nu11051164. (Cavallo C et al.)

High Fat Mediterranean Diet Good for Weight Loss and Waistline

Although it is still widely feared that high fat diets could lead to weight gain, high fat Mediterranean style diets are actually a helpful tool for weight loss. Using data from the republished PREDIMED study (where adults at risk of heart disease were randomly assigned to a low fat diet, a Mediterranean diet with nuts, or a Mediterranean diet with olive oil for nearly 5 years), scientists analyzed the waist circumference and weight of the participants at baseline and again at the end of the study. While all 3,985 participants with follow up data increased their waist size slightly with aging – even as they lost weight – the Mediterranean diet groups had significantly smaller increases in their waistline compared to the low fat control group. Similarly, the Mediterranean diet with olive oil group lost significantly more weight than the low fat group, at nearly 1 pound more, but the greater weight loss seen in the nut group was not statistically significant. The scientists conclude that “the fear of weight gain from high-fat foods need no longer be an obstacle to adherence to a dietary pattern such as the Mediterranean diet,” and that these results “lend support to not restricting intake of healthy fats in advice for bodyweight maintenance and overall cardiometabolic health.”
The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology. 2019 May. [Epub ahead of print] (Estruch R et al.)

Tomato Sofrito Linked with Lower Inflammation

Sofrito is a sauce of tomatoes, onion, and olive oil, commonly eaten in Mediterranean cuisine. In a recent study, researchers investigated to potential health benefits of this sauce. A group of 22 healthy men were fed sofrito after following a low-antioxidant and tomato-free diet; blood and urine samples were taken before and after eating the sofrito. The researchers found a significant increase in the amount of carotenoids and polyphenols (healthy compounds with antioxidant properties) in the 24 hours after eating the sofrito; they also found that inflammation was significantly lower following the intervention. This result suggests that consumption of sofrito, a staple of the Mediterranean diet, may have anti-inflammatory health benefits.
Nutrients.  2019 Apr 15;11(4). pii: E851. doi: 10.3390/nu11040851. (Hurtado-Barroso S, et al.)

Different Saturated Fats May Have Different Impacts on Health

Replacing saturated fats, like those in butter, cheese, and red meat, with unsaturated fats, like those in walnuts, olive oil, and avocados, can help reduce risk of heart disease. But are all saturated fats created equal? To better assess this relationship, scientists analyzed the diets of 2 large groups of European adults (from Denmark & the U.K.) totaling more than 75,000 participants, and then monitored their health outcomes more than a decade later. In one of the groups (the Denmark group), saturated fats from meat were linked with a higher risk of a heart attack, but other sources of saturated fat were not significantly linked with heart attack risk in either direction. Scientists also noted that lauric acid and myristic acid (saturated fats found in foods like coconut oil) were also linked with lower heart attack risk in the Denmark group, but not the U.K. group. More research is needed to better understand how different foods might relate to heart attack risk.
International Journal of Cardiology.  2019 Mar 15;279:18-26. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2018.10.064. (Praagman J et al.)

Frequent Olive Oil Consumption May Be Linked with Making Blood Less Likely to Clot

Olive oil is a well-known heart healthy food, and new research sheds light on a potential explanation behind this benefit. In this study, researchers analyzed the eating habits of 63 obese but otherwise healthy adults, and also analyzed the platelet activity in their blood. (Platelets are the building blocks of blood clots when they stick together.) Those eating olive oil at least once per week had significantly lower platelet activation, indicating that their blood may be less likely to clot. (Note that findings presented at meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.)
Presentation at American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention | Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions. Houston, TX. March 7, 2019 (Heffron SP et al.)

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