The Benefits of Eating a Mediterranean-Type Diet: How Many Studies Will It Take Before We Pay Attention to the Data?

Today’s NYT (February 26, 2013)has a front-page article entitled, “Mediterranean Diet Shown to Ward Off Heart Attack and Stroke,” written by Gina Kolata.  The NYT article summarizes a paper in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine (first published February 25, 2013 on the journal website).  The study was conducted in Spain and was a giant, long-term clinical trial to assess the benefits of what is commonly called a “Mediterranean diet,” which is basically a diet heavy in nuts, fruits, vegetables, fish, and olive oil, and light on processed foods and in particular, foods with high levels of saturated fats (dairy products, corn-fed meats, etc.).  The study results were clear-cut: study subjects who ate the Mediterranean diet had a 30% reduction in risks for heart attacks, strokes, and death from any cardiovascular cause.  The NYT article goes into considerable detail with respect to the study design and includes comments by a number of experts not associated with the study.

Does this study provide new and exciting information?

Don’t get me wrong.  This study was very well done, but I am amazed that we needed another study to tell us what we learned quite a number of years ago but have obviously ignored.  One of those “inconvenient truths?’  I am skeptical that the study results will get us serious about eating in a more healthful manner even though it should.   Maybe, some will be attracted to the regimen since it allows plenty of chocolate and wine?  One thing to note- the “diet” is not really a diet in the sense that its purpose was not to promote weight loss, which it did not.  So, what is it going to take for us to finally pay attention to the data?  Is it going to continue to be one fad diet after another, or one risky medication after another with no long-term benefits, or will we finally get the message?

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