Ten Months Later – Still Mediterranean

February 18, 2020 in Food and the Brain, Foodland Chronicles, Mediterranean by Joyce Bunderson

It hasn’t been quite a year (April 16, 2019) since I last posted to my blog. It appears that many of you continue to come to read the articles and/or recipes. I’m pleased that is still going on. I’m not planning on going back to weekly writing (the eleven-year stint has truly ended); but I do want to add something today.

When I chose to embrace the Mediterranean style of eating all those years ago, I was cautioned that, like any ‘diet’ it wouldn’t be long before the Mediterranean ‘diet’ went down the drain – out of fashion. The person that was sharing that unsolicited advice was not a Registered Dietitian, nor did he have two post-graduate degrees, and he had not studied nutrition for decades. He was a poor prognosticator. The reason I mention this, is that my decision was based upon observing years of advice from different corners of health care – cardiovascular health, cancer prevention, osteoporosis prevention, obesity prevention, diabetes care and prevention, and so on. The strikingly extraordinary observation that I made those years ago, was that all the different fields of health care were commonly giving the same advice. I never saw any reputable general public health nutrition advice that didn’t embrace fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and less meat, sugar and refined products. It wasn’t just luck; it was a great abundance of evidence from diverse points of view.

At our home, we continue to eat essentially Mediterranean style, or Flexitarian style, but have moved toward increasingly frequent vegetarian meals. I sympathize with those who love red meat; but want to move away from so many animal-based meals. We were blessed because for us it was not terribly difficult to enter a process of consuming more and more plant-based meals. On this subject, I would like to re-emphasize considering making any changes you may decide to embrace as a process, instead of a one-time decision. In the past year or two, we gradually learned to use beans more frequently in salads, soups and other vegetable dishes. It took a while, but we just step by step included more beans. Note: That’s nice on so many levels. The water-soluble fiber helps keep our cholesterol in check, beans are a great source of protein (especially when combined with grains), and the fiber contributes to our microbiome.

That last word in the paragraph above – microbiome, has finally gotten me around to why I couldn’t resist writing another blog. It’s that I want to continue to leading cheers for the Mediterranean diet; or as I so commonly refer to it, the Mediterranean style of eating. It’s been at the top of the lists by nutrition health professionals gathered by U.S. News and World Report as the best diet for the past four years – first, second or tied for first. Don’t miss reading the criteria for their best diet. The real fact is that most of the diets at the top are essentially the same with a slight focus on some aspect. For example, the DASH diet is a Mediterranean diet with a focus on keeping sodium intake down; the MIND diet, is more of the same with more of a focus on berries instead of just any fruit, as well as dark green leafy vegetables instead of all vegetables. In essence, a plant-based eating style is deemed to be beneficial.

But ta-dah! The good news for the Mediterranean diet has continued to grow. I think we’d have to be living under a rock, if we didn’t notice the huge upswing in published information recognizing the benefits of a healthy biome. A new study was just published Monday in the BMJ Journal Gut. The nice thing is that the British Medical Journal has put it up for free. Take a look! The bottom line is that the researchers found that after just one year of eating the Mediterranean diet the microbiome of elderly people was altered in ways that improved brain function and they’re predicting will aid in longevity. Yay! For the Mediterranean diet. What these researchers are saying is that the inflammatory chemicals are inhibited that can lead to loss of cognitive function found in Alzheimer’s. These same chemicals lead to the development of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and atherosclerosis.  The Mediterranean diet inhibits these harmful inflammatory chemicals and protects against all these diseases, partly through the improved gut biome.

Generally, as we age the variety and quantity of microbes in our gut diminish; which is really too bad, because the diversity and quantity of microbes is a factor that fights the age-related inflammatory processes that lead to dementia, cancer and other diseases.

A relatively new term has been coined and come to popular use, the term is inflamm-aging; in essence it is low-grade chronic systemic inflammation established during physiological aging – there are markers like C-reactive protein, cytokines and less IL-10 which is involved in maintenance of our immunological stability. These markers were positively impacted in those elderly in the study who consumed a Mediterranean diet.

Now, I realize that you may not be of an old enough age to see much value in this new research; but let me share that damage to our cells doesn’t start on the day we pass some line considered to be the entrance to being old. Staying away from the effects of inflammation is best for us at any age. It protects us from a host of disease states.

If you still are interested in my advice, I’d say, full speed ahead with a plant-based eating style; whether you call it Mediterranean, DASH, MIND or whatever the latest term may be.

It’s been good to feel a connection to you, after my ten-month absence.