The heart disease and obesity epidemic that is affecting many of the world’s developed nations hasn’t yet reached the same level in most Mediterranean countries. Diets in the USA and UK are relatively rich in processed foods. There is clear evidence to suggest that a range of health benefits can be enjoyed by switching to a Mediterranean-style diet. The general principles of a Mediterranean diet include eating lots of fresh vegetables, wholegrain cereals, olive oil, white fish and oily fish. Limiting salt and sugar consumption is crucial too, so substituting ready-meals and processed foods with fresh ingredients wherever possible is important.
What does the research say?
Countries such as Spain and Italy are witnessing a gradual move away from the traditional Mediterranean diet towards one that is more reliant on processed and fatty meats. There is now real concern among health officials in those countries that obesity levels may be on the increase, as well as all the related health issues that are associated with being overweight. According to the Fundacion Dieta Mediterranea, a diet rich in olive oil, pasta, fresh vegetables and wholegrain cereals is beneficial to general health.
Tomatoes play a major part in any Mediterranean diet. They not only form the basis of a great many classic sauces in the region, they are used widely in salads and classic local recipes. One of the active ingredients in tomatoes is a substance called lycopene, which is an antioxidant. Research has shown that a diet rich in lycopene could reduce the risk of certain types of cancer developing, including cancer of the prostate, liver and breast. Moreover, one study revealed that eating tomatoes with olive oil can significantly increase the amount of lycopene in the bloodstream.
The Mediterranean diet and prostate health
Although the Mediterranean diet has been linked to various health benefits and the support of cancer prevention, there is clear evidence that links it to prostate health in particular. Research has concluded that certain fats are associated with the damaging of prostate cells – something that is closely linked to carcinogenesis. A recent study involving several men with prostate cancer revealed that the men who stuck to a Mediterranean style diet had a relatively modest amount of prostate DNA damage after three months of healthy eating. Conversely, the men who had maintained a diet rich in red meat, dairy produce and omega-6 acids were found to have significantly worse DNA damage.
As well as delivering clear benefits to prostate well-being, a Mediterranean style diet has been shown to reduce the risks of colorectal cancer and cancers of the mouth, tongue, nose, throat and oesophagus. A significant part of any Meditteranean diet is the tomato, which is a rich source of lycopene. Sufficient levels of lycopene have been shown to reduce the risk of liver cancer.
The Mediterranean nations are known for their love of fish such as fresh tuna and oysters – both of which are rich in selenium. Research has shown that the antioxidant properties of selenium might be useful in the prevention of pancreatic cancer.
The vitamin D, vitamin E and lycopene that are prevalent in Mediterranean cuisine are all closely associated with minimising cancer risk, but making sure you consume them in sufficient quantities can be tricky. This is why considering a course of scientifically proven supplements can be advantageous as part of a healthy lifestyle.