When experts have said that the Mediterranean diet is the secret to a happy and healthy life, most people have focused on the healthy part. However, two research studies show that people following a Mediterranean diet tend to be happier, less stressed and have significantly healthier hearts than those who follow other dietary regimens.
A so-called “Mediterranean diet” is rich in fish, chicken, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, olive oil and legumes. There are usually pieces of pita involved, but the basic diet is simple, low fat and steeped in seasoning, and little to no processed foods. According to two studies, the Mediterranean diet can make a significant difference in one’s health.
One 10-year study shows that sticking with a Mediterranean diet can drive down heart disease risk regardless of someone’s gender, age or health. The study followed 2,583 Greek adults ranging in ages from 18 to 89, who were all free of heart disease at the onset in 2001. The researchers gathered details about the participants’ diets, particularly 18 different foods, when the study began and 10 years later. Each study participant was rated on this adherence to the Mediterranean diet.
They looked at the risk factors for heart disease for all participants. That included such factor as gender, age, family history, body-mass index, education levels, hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol levels and smoking history.
It turned out that the participants in the top third on the Mediterranean diet adherence ratings were 47 percent less likely than those in the lowest one-third to be among those who showed signs of developing heart disease during the study. The higher the rating in the Mediterranean-diet-adherence score, the lower the risk of developing heart disease.
In another study, Australian scientists studied 82 adults between 18 and 65 who were diagnosed with depression. They assessed the adults’ mental health and details about their lives using two well-known scales: The Positive and Negative Affect Scale (PANAS) and the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS). Finally, the look at how strongly the participants follow a Mediterranean diet.
The results showed a strong link between adherence to a Mediterranean diet and those who had scores on the tests showing less tendency toward mental illness. The researchers found that poor diet can predict the onset of depression, according to Dr Natalie Parletta, from the University of South Australia, who was the study’s lead author. She notes that people do not get depressed and then eat badly; they eat badly which then causes the depression.
The study specifically recruited people who already suffered from depression. They found a correlation between the Mediterranean diet and levels of mental illness. (Those with more signs of mental illness ate less Mediterranean food.)
Parletta pointed out the other research out there that shows a connection between depression and heart disease. So, one theory the research team has begun to espouse is that there are underlying mechanisms in common, such as diet. For example, insulin resistance occurs in the body, causes heart disease as well as depression. She noted that the brain as an organ needs oxygen, blood glucose and other nutrients. A Mediterranean diet high in omega-3, healthy fates, vitamins B and D, and antioxidants, she added, can be important for brain function and fighting off mental illness, and could be a secret to a healthy and happy life.
By Dyanne Weiss