Say goodbye to demonising fats. We love them. But studies are showing it is the type of fat, much like the type of carbohydrate, that counts when supporting or diminishing our health.
And a recent systematic review and meta-analysis further supports this notion, analysing the impact of the Mediterranean diet.
A raft of studies were collated, each undertaken between 1990 and April 2016, that needed to be at least one year in duration, and involve over 100 participants. Study authors then assessed dietary intakes and incidence of cardiovascular events, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and outcomes of cancer.1
56 studies were analysed, though unfortunately, the strength of many studies were not up to scratch. And many showed bias.
But what study authors found was limited evidence to support that a Mediterranean style diet with no limit to fat consumed correlated with reduced incidence of cardiovascular events, type 2 diabetes and breast cancer.
Which is great news!
It has also been found in previous studies that a high fat Mediterranean diet is good for weight loss.
The Mediterranean diet seems to kick ass in the health stakes. Especially when compared to the Western style diet.
“Typical Western diets, which are high in saturated fats, sugar, and refined grains, are causally associated with development of cardiovascular disease, (type 2) diabetes, and some types of cancer, including breast and colorectal cancer,” the study authors stated.
This may be in part due to the high intake of polyunsaturated fats, comprising up to 30-40% of daily energy intake. It is thought that less damaging refined sugars, refined grains, and trans-fats are consumed when there is an unrestricted intake of these healthy, protective fats.
The Mediterranean diet comprises A LOT more whole foods than that of its Western cousin. Let’s take a look at a generalised comparison of the to eating styles:
|Mediterranean diet||Western diet|
|Lots of veg, fruit and leafy greens||Low in veg, fruit and leafy greens|
|Typically higher in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, and lower in saturated fats||Typically higher in processed and trans-fats, and saturated fats|
|Mostly whole food sources of grains, beans and legumes, and low in refined sugar||High in refined sources of grains and sugars|
|Moderate to high fish and seafood, moderate dairy, poultry and eggs, and low red and processed meat intake||High dairy, poultry, red and processed meat, and low fish and seafood intake|
|Eat smaller portions||Eat larger portions|
Some red wine is often included in the Med mix also, along with enjoying food with others!
So, what are the key points of difference in the dietary patterns? It may be the ratios in which the food groups are eaten, and the food quality.
Quantity and quality
Western diets typically involve a high intake of refined foods, low intake of vegetables, fruit and fish, and and the dairy and meat may be of poorer quality, heavily processed or deep fried. In contrast, the Mediterranean diet is more likely to see people eat an abundance of vegetables and fruit, with some legumes, whole grains, olive oil, fish, cheese and dairy, and the occasional piece of good quality meat.2
However, many people in ‘Western’ cultures are beginning to take charge of their health through making positive dietary changes, moving away from the generalised pattern mentioned above. We are hear of this a lot from our followers at That Sugar, which is brilliant!
This can often entail smaller meal sizes; reducing or cutting out processed and packaged foods and added sugars; and a boost to vegetable and fruit intake to then enjoy alongside some fish, legumes, or good quality meat and dairy, such as grass-fed beef, organic dairy, free-range and organic chicken and eggs, or wild game.
It comes down to the quality and quantity of what we eat. Eating an abundance of real, whole foods, and not over-stuffing oneself, may be game changers for your health.
Eating whole food fats
Therefore a healthy diet can certainly include fats! Eating healthy fats can be protective, and far better than getting those kilojoules from sugars.
Here are some suggestions for foods containing the healthy polyunsaturated fats outlined in the study, for you to enjoy:
- Extra virgin olive oil (first cold pressed is best!)
- Fish, especially oily fish like mackerel, sardines, herring, salmon and tuna.
In addition, consuming whole foods over processed, refined foods is a great place to start to gain some health benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet. Of course there are times when some processing is involved. For example, olive oil ain’t an olive – but the olive is minimally processed to any oil, and a better food choice compared to many other seed oils.
A diet comprising of mostly real food will also benefit in the short-term. Boosting mood, energy and bodily function, it is a win-win!
Ultimately, science is constantly evolving, and we can only make the best decisions based on what we are equipped with at the time. If you have concerns, we encourage you visit your healthcare practitioner to advise what may be best for you, as each person is different, with different medical and dietary needs.
Now go have an avocado!
Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)
- Bloomfield HE, Koeller E, Greer N, MacDonald R, Kane R, Wilt TJ. 2016, ‘Effects on Health Outcomes of a Mediterranean Diet With No Restriction on Fat Intake: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis’. Ann Intern Med, [Epub ahead of print 19 July 2016]
- Biasini, C et. al 2016, ‘Mediterranean Diet influences breast cancer relapse: preliminary results of the SETA PROJECT’, Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2016 ASCO Annual Meeting (June 3-7, 2016), vol. 34, no. 15, [Epub ahead of print].