Mediterranean style diets rich in wholegrains may help to keep us trim and healthy

There are many studies which have found that following a Mediterranean style diet is associated with a reduced risk of developing chronic diseases e.g. heart disease, dementia, diabetes.  A recent study (1) published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has concluded that “promoting the MDP [Mediterranean Dietary Pattern] as a model of healthy eating may help to prevent weight gain and the development of obesity”.  The study involved over 370,000 individuals aged between 25-70 years old from 10 European countries.  Measurements were taken from the individuals at the start of the study and after about 5 years.  A score between 0 and 18 was used to assess adherence to the Mediterranean Dietary Pattern and then the association between the socre and 5 year with change was assessed.  Results showed that individuals who had high adherence to the Mediterranean Dietary Pattern (11-18 points) had significantly less weight change over 5 years and were less likely to develop overweight or obesity than individuals with a low adherence to the Mediterranean Dietary pattern (0-6 points).

The results are not very surprising since the Mediterranean Diet is a very healthful one which is high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes/beans, fish (especially oily fish), healthy fats and wholegrains and low in processed foods, refined carbohydrates, red meats, and saturated fats.  Such a diet will be providing the body with numerous vitamins, minerals and nutrients needed for optimal health.

Another study (2) in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found that “Daily consumption of 3 portions of whole-grain foods can significantly reduce cardiovascular disease risk in middle-aged people mainly through blood pressure–lowering mechanisms. The observed decrease in systolic blood pressure could decrease the incidence of coronary artery disease and stroke by 15% and 25%, respectively”.  A few months ago I wrote about some evidence which suggested that wholegrain consumption might reduce the risk of developing Type-2-diabetes, a condition linked to being overweight and an increased risk for other conditions such as heart disease.

Wholegrain rice, oats, barley, wheat, quinoa and millet make an easy, healthy replacement for refined carbohydrates.  Whole grains are nutrient dense, they provide the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fibre that are lacking in the white/refined varieties.  A diet high in refined carbohydrates has been linked to an increased risk of health problems.  Refined carbohydrates tend to have a high glycaemic index, they increase blood sugar levels quickly, which can impact the production of insulin and other hormones in the body and may negatively impact health.

As mentioned in previous posts:

High glycaemic index foods (foods that release sugar quickly into the body) include most refined carbohydrates like white bread, long-grain rice, sweets, biscuits, sugary foods and many other processed carbohydrates and processed foods. Foods that release sugar quickly into the bloodstream have what is known as a high Glycaemic Index (GI), meals that favour a spike in blood sugar levels are said to have a high Glycaemic Load (GL).  To identify foods with a high glycaemic index that will contribute to increasing the GL of a meal please view the website The Glycemic Index, there you will find a database where you can search for specific foods and find out more about GI and health. 

Unbalanced blood sugar levels following a meal (post-prandial dysmetabolism) can cause havoc in the body.  A high post-meal blood sugar level can lead to damaging free radicals (reactive oxygen molecules) being released which are a risk for atherosclerosis (damage to blood vessels) and metabolic syndrome (a big risk factor for heart disease).  The high blood sugar can lead to internal inflammation, dysfunction in the lining of the blood vessels, and may also lead to an increase in triglycerides (blood fats) – all risk factors for heart disease. 

Adding to the evidence, a new study (3) has found that diets high in glycaemic load, glycaemic index and low in fibre were associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes.  The authors conclude that “carbohydrate quantity and quality seem to be important factors in diabetes prevention”.

Following a diet which is similar to that of a Mediterranean diet, which includes unrefined, wholegrain carbohydrate sources really does seem to be beneficial to health.

(1) Dora Romaguera D et al.  2010.  Mediterranean dietary patterns and prospective weight change in participants of the EPIC-PANACEA project.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  92: 912-921

 (2) Tighe P et al.  2010.  Effect of increased consumption of whole-grain foods on blood pressure and other cardiovascular risk markers in healthy middle-aged persons: a randomized controlled trial.   American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  92: 733-740

(3) Sluijs I et al.  2010.  Carbohydrate quantity and quality and risk of type 2 diabetes in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition–Netherlands (EPIC-NL) study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  92: 905-911


Written by Ani Kowal