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The Mediterranean Diet: From an Environment-Driven Food Culture to an Emerging Medical Prescription

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      Abstract

      The Mediterranean diet originates in the food cultures of ancient civilizations which developed around the Mediterranean Basin and is based on the regular consumption of olive oil (as the main source of added fat), plant foods (cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes, tree nuts, and seeds), the moderate consumption of fish, seafood, and dairy, and low-to-moderate alcohol (mostly red wine) intake, balanced by a comparatively limited use of red meat and other meat products. A few decades ago, the Mediterranean diet drew the attention of medical professionals by proving extended health benefits. The first reports ascertained cardiovascular protection, as multiple large-scale clinical studies, starting with Ancel Keys’ Seven Countries Study, showed a marked reduction of atherosclerotic clinical events in populations with a Mediterranean dietary pattern. Ensuing trials confirmed favorable influences on the risk for metabolic syndrome, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases. While its health benefits are universally recognized today by medical professionals, the present state of the Mediterranean diet is challenged by major difficulties in implementing this protective dietary pattern in other geographical and cultural areas and keeping it alive in traditional Mediterranean territories, also tainted by the unhealthy eating habits brought by worldwide acculturation.

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      Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet.

      Observational cohort studies and a secondary prevention trial have shown an inverse association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular risk. We conducted a randomized trial of this diet pattern for the primary prevention of cardiovascular events. In a multicenter trial in Spain, we randomly assigned participants who were at high cardiovascular risk, but with no cardiovascular disease at enrollment, to one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts, or a control diet (advice to reduce dietary fat). Participants received quarterly individual and group educational sessions and, depending on group assignment, free provision of extra-virgin olive oil, mixed nuts, or small nonfood gifts. The primary end point was the rate of major cardiovascular events (myocardial infarction, stroke, or death from cardiovascular causes). On the basis of the results of an interim analysis, the trial was stopped after a median follow-up of 4.8 years. A total of 7447 persons were enrolled (age range, 55 to 80 years); 57% were women. The two Mediterranean-diet groups had good adherence to the intervention, according to self-reported intake and biomarker analyses. A primary end-point event occurred in 288 participants. The multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios were 0.70 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.54 to 0.92) and 0.72 (95% CI, 0.54 to 0.96) for the group assigned to a Mediterranean diet with extra-virgin olive oil (96 events) and the group assigned to a Mediterranean diet with nuts (83 events), respectively, versus the control group (109 events). No diet-related adverse effects were reported. Among persons at high cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events. (Funded by the Spanish government's Instituto de Salud Carlos III and others; Controlled-Trials.com number, ISRCTN35739639.).
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        Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and survival in a Greek population.

        Adherence to a Mediterranean diet may improve longevity, but relevant data are limited. We conducted a population-based, prospective investigation involving 22,043 adults in Greece who completed an extensive, validated, food-frequency questionnaire at base line. Adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet was assessed by a 10-point Mediterranean-diet scale that incorporated the salient characteristics of this diet (range of scores, 0 to 9, with higher scores indicating greater adherence). We used proportional-hazards regression to assess the relation between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and total mortality, as well as mortality due to coronary heart disease and mortality due to cancer, with adjustment for age, sex, body-mass index, physical-activity level, and other potential confounders. During a median of 44 months of follow-up, there were 275 deaths. A higher degree of adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduction in total mortality (adjusted hazard ratio for death associated with a two-point increment in the Mediterranean-diet score, 0.75 [95 percent confidence interval, 0.64 to 0.87]). An inverse association with greater adherence to this diet was evident for both death due to coronary heart disease (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.67 [95 percent confidence interval, 0.47 to 0.94]) and death due to cancer (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.76 [95 percent confidence interval, 0.59 to 0.98]). Associations between individual food groups contributing to the Mediterranean-diet score and total mortality were generally not significant. Greater adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet is associated with a significant reduction in total mortality. Copyright 2003 Massachusetts Medical Society
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          Weight loss with a low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or low-fat diet.

          Trials comparing the effectiveness and safety of weight-loss diets are frequently limited by short follow-up times and high dropout rates. In this 2-year trial, we randomly assigned 322 moderately obese subjects (mean age, 52 years; mean body-mass index [the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters], 31; male sex, 86%) to one of three diets: low-fat, restricted-calorie; Mediterranean, restricted-calorie; or low-carbohydrate, non-restricted-calorie. The rate of adherence to a study diet was 95.4% at 1 year and 84.6% at 2 years. The Mediterranean-diet group consumed the largest amounts of dietary fiber and had the highest ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fat (P<0.05 for all comparisons among treatment groups). The low-carbohydrate group consumed the smallest amount of carbohydrates and the largest amounts of fat, protein, and cholesterol and had the highest percentage of participants with detectable urinary ketones (P<0.05 for all comparisons among treatment groups). The mean weight loss was 2.9 kg for the low-fat group, 4.4 kg for the Mediterranean-diet group, and 4.7 kg for the low-carbohydrate group (P<0.001 for the interaction between diet group and time); among the 272 participants who completed the intervention, the mean weight losses were 3.3 kg, 4.6 kg, and 5.5 kg, respectively. The relative reduction in the ratio of total cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein cholesterol was 20% in the low-carbohydrate group and 12% in the low-fat group (P=0.01). Among the 36 subjects with diabetes, changes in fasting plasma glucose and insulin levels were more favorable among those assigned to the Mediterranean diet than among those assigned to the low-fat diet (P<0.001 for the interaction among diabetes and Mediterranean diet and time with respect to fasting glucose levels). Mediterranean and low-carbohydrate diets may be effective alternatives to low-fat diets. The more favorable effects on lipids (with the low-carbohydrate diet) and on glycemic control (with the Mediterranean diet) suggest that personal preferences and metabolic considerations might inform individualized tailoring of dietary interventions. (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00160108.) 2008 Massachusetts Medical Society
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            Author and article information

            Affiliations
            [1 ]Diabetes, Nutrition and Metabolic Diseases, “Grigore T. Popa” University of Medicine and Pharmacy, 700115 Iași, Romania; alina.onofriescu@ 123456umfiasi.ro (A.O.); bogdan.mihai@ 123456umfiasi.ro (B.-M.M.)
            [2 ]“Sf. Spiridon” Emergency Hospital, 700111 Iași, Romania; floria_mariana@ 123456yahoo.com
            [3 ]Internal Medicine, “Grigore T. Popa” University of Medicine and Pharmacy, 700115 Iași, Romania
            Author notes
            [* ]Correspondence: cristina.lacatusu@ 123456umfiasi.ro (C.-M.L.); elena-daniela-gh-grigorescu@ 123456umfiasi.ro (E.-D.G.); Tel.: +40-72-321-1116 (C.-M.L.); +40-74-209-3749 (E.-D.G.)
            Journal
            Int J Environ Res Public Health
            Int J Environ Res Public Health
            ijerph
            International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
            MDPI
            1661-7827
            1660-4601
            15 March 2019
            March 2019
            : 16
            : 6
            30875998
            6466433
            10.3390/ijerph16060942
            ijerph-16-00942
            © 2019 by the authors.

            Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

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