Long live the olives: Mediterranean diet for better health

Elena Vardanian
4 min read

Climate is changing but planet temperature is rising a bit slower than our worries about food security. Farmers already are struggling growing those chocolate and coffee beans, avocado and bananas, so let's stick to those products that could “survive” global warming and help us stay healthy and reconsider our food priorities towards products that can be produced somewhere with hot and dry summers and mild, wet winters and the clue is olives.

Mediterranean climate with average monthly temperatures in excess of 22.0°C (71.6 °F) during its warmest month and an average in the coldest month between 18 and −3°C (64 and 27°F) fits perfectly with its Mediterranean diet (1).

The Core of the Diet

While there is no single definition of the Mediterranean diet, it is typically high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, and olive oil as a primary added fat. Diet includes weekly intake of fish and other seafood (at least twice a week), poultry, beans and eggs (daily or few times a week), moderate portions of dairy products and limited intake of red meat (few times per month). Olive oil replaced other oils and fats (butter, margarine). Other foods naturally containing healthful fats are welcomed: nuts and oily fish like salmon and sardines; among these, walnuts and fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids (2).

Water is prefered as the main daily beverage, but a glass of wine per day is not forbidden. It is also important to add physical activity on a day-to-day basis.

The Power of Your Mediterranean Plate

The Mediterranean diet has been linked with good health, including a healthier heart. It is one of the healthy eating plans recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans to promote health and prevent chronic disease (3) and also recognized by the World Health Organization as a healthy and sustainable dietary pattern (4).

According to PREDIMED and other studies this diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases and overall mortality. A study of nearly 26,000 women found that those who followed this type of diet had 25% less risk of developing cardiovascular disease over the course of 12 years (2).

The PREDIMED study, including thousands of people with diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease, found that this dietary pattern followed by extra virgin olive oil or nuts consumption and without any fat and calorie restrictions reduced the rates of death from stroke by roughly 30% (2). However, editors from the New England Journal of Medicine together with Dr. Martinez-Gonzalez, a chronic disease epidemiologist and the leader of several cohorts and trials conducted in Spain, discovered several major problems that lead to some questions.

During the PREDIMED study, researchers on one study site failed to randomly assign individual people from 11 clinics to the different diets. In cases where more than one person in a family was participating in the study, they were all assigned to the same diet instead of being randomized. Researchers also failed to properly use the randomization table, which is supposed to guide researchers in how the randomization is done. Altogether, 20 % of participants weren’t properly randomized in one way or another (5).

Mediterranean eating patterns are still effective, but it is difficult to tell people what exactly they should eat for their best health.