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An International, Whole Health Look at the Mediterranean Diet

Researchers based at the University of Florence in Florence, Italy analyzed 12 major health studies focused on the Mediterranean Diet. These studies covered most of the major Mediterranean countries, including France, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal, but also Belgium, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Key foods that scientists consider to be the health foundations of the Mediterranean Diet were examined, and were each given point if consumed at an above-average level. Included in the healthy list were vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, cereals, and red wine (but only when consumed at a moderate level with meals). If intake was below average, no points were given. Red meats, processed meats, and dairy products were given points only if their intake was below average, since these foods are generally excluded from the health foundations of Mediterranean eating.

For cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and for Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease as well, above-average consumption of the Mediterranean Diet foods lowered both disease risk and death rate from chronic disease. In fact, given the broad range of chronic diseases examined in the study, the researchers felt comfortable saying that the Mediterranean Diet "confers a significant protection for overall mortality." That's quite a statement to make about a realistic and delicious approach to food.

The researchers emphasize the whole diet nature of their conclusions. It was not any particular nutrient (like omega-3 fats, or dietary fiber) that could explain the protective effects of the Mediterranean Diet. Nor was it any particular food - even olive oil, which they named specifically as a food of benefit in their research write-up. Rather, it was the unique combination of foods that seemed to account for the unusual health benefits of Mediterranean eating. When we offer recipes on our website that combine the World's Healthiest Foods into quick and easy, great tasting meals, we have this same message in mind. It's your entire way of eating that shapes your health, not any single nutrient or food.

It was fascinating and informative to see researchers struggling with some discrepancies in the different studies. For example, in one study, plain potatoes were grouped together with green leafy vegetables and other nutrient-dense vegetables. In this circumstance, the researchers were concerned that potatoes would not be expected to provide the same health benefits as green leafy vegetables. The grouping of nuts and seeds together with fruits in some studies was also of concern to the researchers. All of these details make it doubly clear that from a scientific standpoint, the food groups we describe for you at the World's Healthiest Foods are absolutely unique and provide you with unique health benefits. As you discover more and more foods within each group that you enjoy, your diet will take on even more of a Mediterranean flavor, and provide you with more potential health benefits.