Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Eat like the Greeks!

Being a massive nerd with myriad interests does have its benefits sometimes. For example, I subscribe to a weekly news alert called Physicians FirstWatch. It provides a quick summary of newsworthy medical studies published over the last week and a link to the original article if possible. I came across a great one today that I'm surprised hasn't splashed all over the news given our society's obsession with diet and health.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, analyzed the diets of almost 25 000 Mediterranean residents over the course of almost 9 years. What the study was looking for was all-cause mortality, that is, death from any cause. It then tried to weed out any potential confounding factors to see how diet contributed to risk of death. The diets were scored on a scale from 0-10 with regards to how closely the diet followed that of the ideal Mediterranean diet. What did they find?

For every 2-unit increase in diet score there was a mortality ratio of 0.864, with the true value of this finding falling somewhere between 0.802 and 0.932 with 95% confidence. This means that those who followed the Mediterranean diet 2 points higher than those who didn't had a 7-20% lower risk of death. The most interesting facet of the study was the determination of which components of the Mediterranean diet contributed most to this reduction in mortality. I'm surprised the health media hasn't taken this and ran with it as the healthy living rule book or something of that sort!

(In order of descending importance)
1. Moderate alcohol consumption (versus no or excessive consumption)
2. Low consumption of meat and meat products
3. High vegetable consumption
4. High fruit and nut consumption
5. High consumption of monounsaturated fats in relation to consumption of saturated fats
-monounsaturated fats are basically healthy plant oils like olive oil, canola oil, nuts, avocados
-saturated fats include dairy fats (cheese, milk) and animal fats
6. High legume consumption (for those of you not currently enjoying the bounty of legumes nature has to offer, these include peas, beans, and lentils)

As Michael Pollan says in his book, In Defense of Food, there's a lot that can be learned from diets based on centuries of tradition. It's too bad it took a highly complex, and likely expensive, scientific study to tell us such a simple fact. If we'd just get back to our roots and start eating FOOD again instead of processed garbage, this would be common sense for most people. Hopefully it doesn't come as a shock to you!

1 comment:

Jim the Guacamole Diet guy said...

It sounds like a very difficult study, and I'm somewhat skeptical about the results, or at least their relative rankings. I would have expected monounsaturated fats to be more important than some of the other factors. Interesting study, nevertheless.