It seems like every time we turn around, we hear about a new way the Mediterranean diet is good for us. Filling up on fruits, vegetables and whole grains, eating a moderate amount of fish and dairy and just a small amount of meat, sweets and unhealthy fats, and incorporating olive oil and the occasional glass of red wine is a recipe for reducing the risk of heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and death due to heart disease or cancer. In the past few months alone, studies have concluded that the Mediterranean diet may lower the risk for chronic kidney disease, diabetes and peripheral artery disease and can help reverse metabolic syndrome. And that’s just a small sampling of the research fast piling up in the diet’s favor.
Now comes evidence that switching to a Mediterranean diet may have surprisingly sustained health benefits. After spending just eight weeks eating a Mediterranean-style diet and exercising more, participants in a study conducted by researchers at Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Lincoln, in the U.K., showed improved blood flow in their endothelial cells, found within the inner lining of the blood vessels throughout their vascular system, a full year after halting their healthful regimens. The functional improvement of these endothelial cells could lower the risk for cardiovascular disease, researchers say.
But why the long-term improvement after only a short-term intervention? The researchers credit molecular changes associated with the Mediterranean diet. Another group of study participants who were assigned an eight-week exercise regime without the diet did not show the same long-term health improvement.
Dr. Markos Klonizakis, of Sheffield Hallam University, the lead researcher on the study, which looked at healthy people over age 50, called the findings “encouraging.”
“Considering the scientific evidence already out there that a Mediterranean diet offers health benefits,” he said, “it made sense to examine how such a diet, when combined with exercise, could affect the small veins of our body due to their important role in our overall well-being, in the longer term.”
The takeaway? That olive-oil-drizzled salad, fresh fruit and whole-grain toast you eat today could help you tomorrow, too.
Amy Reiter also contributes to FN Dish.