Score another one for the Mediterranean-style diet, a pattern of eating characterized by high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and olive oil, along with more fish and less meat. A review of 50 previous studies, including both observational studies and clinical trials, reports a link between eating like a Mediterranean and protection against metabolic syndrome.
A cluster of symptoms, such as hypertension and unhealthy blood sugar levels, metabolic syndrome is a precursor of heart disease and diabetes.
Demosthenes Panagiotakos, PhD, of Harokopio University of Athens in Greece, and colleagues examined studies conducted in the US, Europe and Australia totaling nearly 535,000 participants. Their meta-analysis found a Mediterranean- style diet not only decreased the prevalence and progression of metabolic syndrome overall, but also was linked to improvement in its individual components. Among the factors most strongly associated with a Mediterranean diet were higher HDL (good) cholesterol levels, lower systolic blood pressure and reduced fasting glucose measurements. Some of the studies reviewed also showed benefits against triglycerides, but others found no benefit.
Perhaps not surprisingly, studies of people in Mediterranean countries showed the greatest benefits against metabolic syndrome. Scientists speculated that this may be because of readier access to key foods in the dietary pattern, as well as possible genetic and environmental factors. Combining a Mediterranean-style diet with an active lifestyle enhanced the effects against components of metabolic syndrome.
These results are of considerable public health importance, Panagiotakos and colleagues commented, because this dietary pattern can be adopted by other population groups and various cultures and cost-effectively serve for primary and secondary prevention of the metabolic syndrome and its individual components.
TO LEARN MORE: Journal of the American College of Cardiology, March 15, 2011; abstract at dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jacc.2010.09.073.