Mediterranean medicine

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.

At no time has that saying been more appropriate. Because a new study has shown that dietary changes can be remarkably effective in reducing inflammation–and in as little as six weeks, too.

Inflammation is a driving force behind a long list of chronic diseases. Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancers, arthritis, Crohn’s disease and diabetes… and those are just the ones I can list off the top of my head right now.

But studies have repeatedly shown that you can cut levels of inflammation just by making a few key changes to your diet. Namely, by eating more omega-3s, veggies, fruits, nuts, and lean proteins–and cutting out refined grains, bad fats, and sugar.

This approach to eating is more popularly known as a “Mediterranean diet.” But guess what other diet fits that description? That’s right–my New Hamptons Health Miracle.

Now onto this study’s details…

Researchers instructed 30 “healthy” subjects–I use that term loosely, because they were selected based on their initially poor diets–to follow a Mediterranean eating plan for six weeks.

This meant that, over the course of the study, the participants ate more fish (including a serving of salmon once a week), vegetables, and good fats from foods like avocado and olive oil.

The researchers assigned each subject randomly to either high- or low-intervention groups. They also took blood and urine samples, in order to look for inflammation-related markers, like C-reactive protein (CRP).

Meanwhile, participants completed diaries and questionnaires pertaining to their diets and lifestyle… the contents of which, as it turns out, corresponded to some noteworthy changes once the six weeks was up.

Positive dietary changes were linked to significant declines in inflammatory biomarkers in the volunteers’ blood. Which suggests that abandoning junk food for a Mediterranean-style eating plan can alter gene expression within a matter of weeks.

Bear in mind that these were average young people with no known health conditions. So just imagine the results you’d see in people with a chronic inflammatory condition. (As in 175 million of your fellow Americans.)

When there are that many people who suffer from an illness, by definition, this is an epidemic. In every epidemic (except in the early years of AIDS), our country has galvanized its forces in an effort to identify its cause.

If you’re old enough, you might remember the Legionnaires’ epidemic in the late seventies. It made front-page headlines around the world. And scientists pulled out every stop until the culprit was found.

A mere 34 people died as a result of that original outbreak. Sugar, refined carbs, and other processed foods are silently killing millions as I type this. But is the media sounding their alarms?

As usual, I hear nothing but crickets chirping. And you’ve got to wonder why. Especially given the results of another recent study on the healing power of healthy food.

Researchers in Spain randomly assigned 7,447 high-risk older subjects to one of three diets.

The first group followed a Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra virgin olive oil. (About one liter–or 33 ounces–each week.)

The second group followed a Mediterranean diet, but ate additional servings of nuts. (About half an ounce of walnuts and a quarter ounce each of almonds and hazelnuts every day.)

The third group followed a control diet, which was–you guessed it–low fat.

None of the subjects had heart disease at the start of the study. And after five years of follow-up, the participants following a Mediterranean diet were most likely to stay that way.

In fact, they enjoyed a 30 percent lower risk of death, heart attack or stroke than their low-fat peers.

These results appeared in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. And they clearly highlight the importance of eating plenty of good fat.

But I’d like to add a caveat of my own.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, olive oil isn’t really your healthiest choice when it comes to cooking oils. That honor goes to macadamia nut oil.

It’s got a high smoke point. It’s got the highest level of healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) of any other oil you can buy. It’s low in inflammatory omega-6s. And it’s packed with nutrients.

Most importantly, mac nut oil is delicious. And that’s one benefit that speaks for itself.

Univiersity of Auckland, New Zealand. “Diet change works swiftly in reducing risk.” January 14, 2013. Web. February 25, 2013.
“Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet.” N Engl J Med. 2013 Feb 25.