If you want to cut the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes then you need to control weight and cut down on fat. However, new research suggests that a low fat diet might not be as effective as a Mediterranean diet which does not focus on cutting out fats. Of course, obesity issues need to be tackled but when it comes to a healthy diet it seems the Europeans are serving up a more appealing menu than those living in the US.
What is a Mediterranean diet?
First of all, what’s great about the Mediterranean diet is that it is absolutely delicious. Europeans love their food and don’t eat as much processed foods or junk food as is consumed in the US, where obesity levels have reached disturbing levels.
Think fresh produce. A Mediterranean diet is packed with fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as fibre from cereals, potatoes, beans and nuts. Olive oil, which should never be heated, is a rich source of monounsaturated fats. Dairy products, as well as fish and poultry are also part of the diet, with limited intake and even less red meat consumed. Eggs are on the menu a few times a week maximum, as is wine!
But isn’t it high in fat?
A Mediterranean diet is certainly higher in fat than a low-fat diet. If obesity is an issue then steps do need to be taken to lose weight and it is true that the Mediterranean diet is not aimed at weight loss. However, although over 30% of daily calories come from fats, these monounsaturated fats do not have the same negative effect on cholesterol as saturated fats do.
Can a Mediterranean diet lower the risk of heart disease?
Heart disease rates in countries which tend to follow a Mediterranean diet are lower than in countries which consume a higher volume of saturated fats and processed foods, such as the United States. However, other factors such as lifestyle and activity levels cannot be ignored, so the direct role diet plays it not rigidly understood.
Can a Mediterranean diet lower the risk of diabetes?
According to recent research, yes, and this is especially effective in those with a high risk of heart disease. The University of Athens, in Greece, looked at 19 studies including over 162,000 participants, in several countries, over several years. The findings suggested that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, fish and nuts lowered the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 21%. For those at high risk of heart disease the diet reduced the Type 2 diabetes risk by 27%.
According to the lead investigator, Desmosthenes Panagiotakos, diet is key. “Diabetes is an ongoing epidemic and its relation to obesity, especially in the Westernized populations, is well known. We have to do something to prevent diabetes and changing our diet may be an effective treatment.”
Once again, recent studies point to evidence that this diet is more effective than a straightforward low-fat diet.
What about kids’ diets?
With obesity a growing problem across the Western world, particularly in the US, could swapping a corn dog for a tomato and basil salad with a drizzle of olive oil help? According to researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, it can. They found that children aged between 2-9 years old who followed a Mediterranean diet were 15% less likely to be overweight or obese than those who didn’t follow this diet.
What’s your favorite healthy Mediterranean style meal?