Tuesday, 07 November 2017 16:25

Harvard/international science meets Mediterranean diet and lifestyle - Highlights from the Mediterranean Diet and Health Conference, a nutritional odyssey in Greece

The advantages of a Mediterranean diet were discovered in Crete and from Greece, this dietary pattern conquered the whole world. In Chalkidiki, a scientific and culinary odyssey took place from October 16 to 20, 2017 where Harvard and other international researchers discussed and enjoyed the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet and lifestyle.

Prof. Stefanos Kales

Prof. Stefanos Kales, from the Harvard Faculty of Medicine and Public Health and George Stamou, producer and director of the successful TV show “The Cooking Odyssey”, organized and welcomed the participants. Prof. Kales sketched the current challenges for health professionals to cope with the worldwide increasing “diabesity” – the fatal combination of obesity and type 2 diabetes. His slogan “Back into the future” describes the Mediterranean diet as an ideal option for prevention and therapy. 

Epidemiological data paved the way…

Walter WillettWalter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at the Harvard Faculty of Public Health in Boston, introduced the Mediterranean diet in the US. In his keynote lecture, he described the key studies leading to the reputation of the Mediterranean diet as the “Rolls Royce” of healthy eating patterns. After considering a low fat diet the ideal eating pattern for a long time, epidemiological studies showed that there was no association between the fat intake and the risks of various diseases. The results of the Nurses Health and the Health Professional follow-up studies demonstrated that the total mortality was reduced with an improved nutritional quality and not with decreasing fat consumption.

Interventional studies such as the Spanish PREDIMED could prove that a Mediterranean diet – supplemented with nuts and olive oil – was superior than a low-fat diet with regards to CVD morbidity and mortality.

Despite its higher fat content, a Mediterranean diet is associated with a higher life expectancy and beneficial effects on chronic disease, Prof. Willett concluded.

Polyphenol-rich foods and wine

His Harvard colleague Prof. Eric Rimm described the components of a Mediterranean diet. In addition to lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, regular fish and legume consumption, olive oil, nuts and in Greece, high fat yogurt from sheep and goat milk as well as moderate wine consumption with the meals are part of this dietary pattern.

Prof. Rosa Lamuela-Raventos, Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety of the University of Barcelona, demonstrated the high polyphenol content of such diet and their high contribution to the antioxidant content of the food. In their Spanish PREDIMED study, the daily total polyphenol content was 820 mg, of which 443 mg came from flavonoids and 304 mg from phenolic acids. Besides vegetables and fruits, wine was one of the special polyphenol sources in the Mediterranean diet. An intervention study such as the PREDIMED did confirm the beneficial effects of a polyphenol-rich diet on the diabetes, cardiovascular and mortality risk.

Preview: PREDIMED plus study

Prof. Ramon Estruch, director and principal investigator of the PREDIMED study, described the next steps in primary prevention of cardiovascular diseases that he and his team have already initiated with PREDIMEDplus. 6000 overweight men and women with at least three parameters of the metabolic syndrome, were randomized either in a group with Mediterranean diet or in intensive weight-loss intervention (PREDIMEDplus). For 6 years, those participants in the intensive weight-loss intervention will consume an energy-restricted Mediterranean diet and increase their physical activity. Two to four 0.2 l glasses (women) and five to seven glasses (men) of wine, 125 g of nuts and 1 l of olive oil are the weekly ingredients of the energy reduced diet. Initial results after one and two years showed an improved blood pressure, LDL-, HDL, tryglyceride, blood sugar and HbA1c values compared to the control group.

Traditional products/foods and preparation methods

Prof. Antonia TrichopoulouThe final round table discussion was led by Prof. Antonia Trichopoulou from the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology of the Medical Faculty at the University of Athens. With the slogan “from the tradition to science and back” Trichopoulou showed how much the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet depend on traditional ingredients, recipes and preparation methods. For example, 194 Greek specialties could be labelled with health claims according to the EU regulation.

The scientific presentations were complemented with examples of practical implementation: A beneficial Mediterranean diet in companies’ health promotion programs, ie. at university with American students, firemen and health professionals.

At the end of the conference/odyssey, the international scientists agreed that a healthy Mediterranean eating pattern can be easily adopted anywhere in the world. During a 5-day culinary odyssey of Macedonian cuisine, the participants had many opportunities to taste different foods, spices and dishes and take home ideas for their personal and professional implementation. 

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