There is evidence that consuming a Mediterranean-style diet—rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, olive oil, and fish lowers the level of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body. The diet may also protect against depression by increasing levels of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants used by the body to manufacture anti-inflammatory chemicals that increase blood flow to the brain.
A study released in October 2013 followed 10,000 Spaniards for more than four years and found that those who reported eating a Mediterranean Diet had a 30 percent lower risk of developing depression than those who didn’t. Study authors said the diet is beneficial because it contains few of the fats that drive inflammation, like saturated fat in red meat and trans fats in margarine and processed foods. At the same time, it’s rich in nuts, berries and dark vegetables that have anti-inflammatory effects.
In another study, Francesco Sofi, a clinical nutrition researcher, and colleagues at the University of Florence, reviewed 12 international studies that included 1.5 million people, whose eating habits and health were followed for three to 18 years. In this analysis, the study participants were rated according to how well they adhered to the Mediterranean Diet. The report was published in the Sept. 11, 2008 online edition of the British Medical Journal.
According to the study results, people who followed the Mediterranean Diet strictly, as opposed to those who were less diligent, experienced the following disease-risk reductions associated with inflammation:
• 9% reduction in Heart disease
• 13% reduction of Parkinson’s disease
• 13% reduction of Alzheimer’s disease
• 6% reduction in Cancer
How Does it Work?
Strengthens the Immune System – The Mediterranean Diet contains anti-inflammatory foods to develop a stronger immune system. Inflammation in the body weakens the immune system and its ability to fight off illness and disease. Toxins and free radicals often accumulate in the body from poor nutritional choices. Foods that are low in anti-inflammatory ingredients and high in nutrients and antioxidants fight free radicals in the body that damage tissues and cells.
Monosaturated Fats – The Mediterranean Diet is low in saturated fats and high in healthy fats, primarily monounsaturated fats. More than half of its fat calories come from monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts and seeds. This attributes to a decreased risk of heart disease and other fatal diseases. Unhealthy fats, including saturated and trans-fats, in contrast, increase the build-up of plaque in the arteries and lead to atherosclerosis. This is a contributing risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Lower Protein Content – The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes nutrient-rich foods that are high in fiber and healthy fats. In particular, the diet consists of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, such as bread and pastas, olive oils, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans, fish and minimal poultry. This creates a balance between energizing complex carbohydrates, lean proteins and healthy fats. It is believed that too much protein in the body may increase inflammation, as the organs, including the liver, have to work harder to break down these foods. Hence, eggs and meat are typically only eaten once or twice weekly.
Promotes Healthy Digestion – The Mediterranean Diet includes high-fiber foods such as beans, legumes, whole grains and vegetables. Fiber is essential to decreasing inflammation in the body since it aids in healthy digestion. Fiber is the undigested part of plant food that moves through the body for elimination. Along the way, it accumulates excess toxins and waste products that are harmful to the body and produce gastrointestinal distress and inflammation. These foods also help to stabilize blood sugar levels and prevent hunger cravings, encouraging weight loss and management.