• Dieticians agree that the mix of good fats, grains and fresh produce in the Mediterranean diet makes it a winner in the health stakes. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
We've banished sugar, dined like cavemen and demonised gluten. Is 2017 the year of the Mediterranean Diet - again?
Evelyn Lewin

10 Jan 2017 - 11:22 AM  UPDATED 10 Jan 2017 - 11:44 AM

There were many diets that vied for our attention in 2016. Some people opted for the Paleo diet, while others jumped on the 5:2 bandwagon. Then there were those who eschewed gluten or sugar (or both!).

But as wave after wave of diet plans crashed over us, an old faithful today remains by our sides: the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranean diet was a huge hit back in the ‘90s, with its recommendations to consume high levels of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables and cereals, along with moderate amounts of fish and poultry, and low intake of dairy, red and processed meats.

Chair of the cardiac society’s prevention and clinical counsel, Dr David Colquhoun, says it’s time to embrace this diet once again, as we limp our way through 2017 following another season of overindulgence.

“There’s no doubt about it; the Mediterranean diet is the best type of diet to prevent first and recurrent heart attacks,” Dr Colquhoun tells SBS.

During the two-year study, those who followed a Mediterranean diet had significant decreases in body weight, body mass index and waist circumference, among other measures.

He says the Mediterranean diet stands leagues above others  and that it has the randomised trials and laboratory data to back it up.

Dr Colquhoun refers to the landmark PREDIMED trial from 2013, which boasted a 39 per cent reduction in stroke incidence in participants who followed the Mediterranean diet. The study also demonstrated a “substantial reduction” in the risk of major cardiovascular events among high-risk persons who stuck to the diet.

Then there was the Lyon Heart Study, a randomised controlled study published in 2001. Those who followed the Mediterranean diet for the duration of the study (46 months) had a 50-70 per cent lower risk of recurrent heart disease.

Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Jessica Bailes, says the diet is so good for us is because of its mix of healthy foods - such as high fibre and good fats, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables - and the way they interact; an example of this, according to Bailes, is how good fats, when added to vegetables, help increase the absorption of antioxidants.

New high carb, low protein 'longevity diet': Will it work for you?
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Now, new research points to another reason why the Mediterranean diet may be so beneficial: because it contains foods high in magnesium.

The research, published in BMC Medicine in December 2016, included over one million participants through the use of 40 studies. It found that increasing magnesium levels was associated with a reduced risk of stroke, heart failure and diabetes.

Dr Fudi Wang, lead author of the study at Zhejiang University in China, said: "Our meta-analysis provides the most up-to-date evidence supporting a link between the role of magnesium in food and reducing the risk of disease".

While the role of magnesium in disease reduction in that study sounds promising, Dr Colquhoun is quick to advise against pinning all the ‘goodness’ of the Mediterranean diet on any one mineral or nutrient. He explains that isolating a single nutrient can’t account for the complexity of benefits offered from the diet as a whole.

Bailes agrees, explaining that the Mediterranean diet is a good way to ensure an adequate intake of magnesium (for men, the recommended daily intake is 400mg; for women it’s 300mg), because the diet is bursting with foods such as leafy greens, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

But she is also wary of attributing disease reduction on that mineral alone.

If you’re ready to eat the Mediterranean way, but are worried about its effect on your waistline, Bailes reassures it can actually help with weight control.

A 2004 study published in JAMA backs that notion.

During the two-year study, those who followed a Mediterranean diet had significant decreases in body weight, body mass index and waist circumference, among other measures.

Mind you, Dr Colquhoun notes you do need to differentiate between “usual food” and “feast food”.

“There’s no doubt about it; the Mediterranean diet is the best type of diet to prevent first and recurrent heart attacks."

Perhaps the best bit about eating this way is simply that it’s “very easy”, Dr Colquhoun says.

“The Mediterranean diet is enjoyed by over 100 million people all over the world and they don’t need dietitians [to guide them].

“It’s not only something you can live with, but something you can embrace.”

So with the New Year behind you and 2017 rolling on, you may wish to join the millions of people worldwide who dine the Mediterranean way - and whose hearts thank them for it.

Comment: Please quit the diet talk
Food can be celebratory or perfunctory, lavish or frugal, fast or slow. But it can never be the measure of your worth as a human being. If you still want to ‘go on a diet’ that’s up to you, but there’s no need to evangelise to others.
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