Diet is considered one of the biggest factors that determines a person’s overall health and longevity. In the U.S., the Mediterranean diet, which includes mostly plant-based foods and healthy fats, is the eating plan recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It is also recognized by the World Health Organization as one of the healthiest — if not THE healthiest — dietary pattern to follow.
According to statistics, Mediterranean countries have the lowest mortality rates associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD is the leading cause of death not just in the U.S., but everywhere else in the world. Researchers believe that the Mediterranean diet is responsible for these low mortality rates as it helps prevent chronic diseases and promotes overall health.
In a study published the Journal of Medicinal Food, American researchers found evidence supporting to support this assumption. Upon investigating the effects of a calorie-restricted Mediterranean diet with targeted dietary supplementation (nutraceuticals), they found that overweight and obese subjects responded positively to it, experiencing a reduction in various cardiometabolic risk factors such as hypertension, dyslipidemia and central adiposity.
Among the comorbidities of having a high body mass index (BMI), CVD remains the leading cause of death and disability around the world, followed by Type 2 diabetes. Studies, on the other hand, suggest that the Mediterranean diet significantly lowers a person’s risk of developing CVD. (Related: Mediterranean Diet Leads to Lower Mortality, Enhanced Longevity.)
The Mediterranean diet promotes the consumption of plant-based foods and limits the intake of meat and processed foods. People on this diet rely heavily on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, fish, nuts, seeds and eggs for their nutritional needs, and eat very small amounts of red meat. They also regularly consume olive oil, which is rich in antioxidants and healthy fats with anti-inflammatory properties.
For their study, the researchers assigned a modified Mediterranean diet which included protein shakes and targeted supplementation with nutraceuticals to 50 overweight and obese subjects with cardiometabolic risk factors. This diet provided about 68 to 76 percent of each participant’s estimated calorie requirement.
The researchers assessed the participants’ salivary nitrite weekly and recorded key cardiometabolic metrics at baseline and on weeks nine and 13. Salivary nitrite is an alternative biomarker for nitric oxide, a compound that causes blood vessels to dilate. This effect results in a reduction in blood pressure, which is considered a cardioprotective effect.
The researchers reported that the modified Mediterranean diet was well-tolerated by the participants, with bloating, flatulence and constipation as the only adverse effects reported. The diet successfully decreased the following:
Oxidized LDL is a harmful type of cholesterol associated with atherosclerosis. High-sensitivity C-reactive protein, on the other hand, is a biomarker of inflammation and helps determine a person’s risk of CVD.
In terms of blood pressure, the participants experienced a nine percent reduction in systolic blood pressure and 12 percent for diastolic blood pressure. The diet also increased the nitrogen dioxide salivary biomarker for nitric acid relative to baseline. In addition, it dramatically reduced the number of participants who met the cardiometabolic syndrome criteria by 50 percent, as well as the number of those with Framingham 10-year cardiovascular risk by 38 percent.
Based on these results, the researchers concluded that the addition of targeted nutraceutical supplementation to a calorie-restricted Mediterranean diet with lifestyle modifications can improve multiple longevity risk factors more effectively than diet and lifestyle modification alone.