The Mediterranean Diet: The Answer To Rising Health Care Costs?

As I began writing this blog post, I found myself wondering how many people reading it will have actually bought a fresh turkey from the butcher, cleaned it and cooked it themselves —from scratch? Not many, I’ll wager, given the preponderance of pre-packaged butterballs and even of pre-cooked meals to take home — timesaving benefits of today’s industrialized society. Fast-food meats home-cooked meal. But is it actually as good for you as the meal grandma used to make?

This is about more than cooking and spending time in the kitchen; or about going back to the good old days when strawberries weren’t imported from halfway around the world, served in places and at times of the year when the best your parents could hope to have were photos of strawberries. It’s about the relation between how you eat and what you become. It’s about health.

Governments around the world today are trying to figure out how to manage escalating health care costs — particularly those centering on systemic diseases that currently plague the modern world, such as heart disease, the world’s number 1 killer, according to the World Health Organization. Then there’s cancer and diabetes.

One good way would be to start encouraging people to eat well and maintaining a healthy lifestyle before they start falling ill, by focusing on diet. That was the main takeaway of an international conference on food values I attended February 14 in Vatican City’s Casa Pio IV (Pope Pius IV), under the patronage of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. Organized by olive oil proponent Paolo Pasquali of Villa Campestri in the Mugello Valley near Florence, the conference focused on Food & health, Food Traditions & Cultural heritage, and Food Values, and drew experts from the field of medicine, diet, nutrition, and cuisine to discuss “The Renaissance of the Mediterranean Diet and its Significance for a 21st century World. Pasquali points out, “There is no mystery about the relationship between diet and heath, both physical and mental. “Mens sana in corpore sano” – a healthy mind in a healthy body. And this can be achieved by returning to the food values of old, based on fresh produce, lean meats and fish and of course olive oil.”

What Is The Med Diet?

Basically, the Mediterranean diet includes fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, pasta and rice…and limits unhealthy fats. More specifically, according to the Mayo Clinic, the Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

• Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts

• Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil

• Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods

• Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month

• Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week

• Enjoying meals with family and friends

• Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)

Getting plenty of exercise

Bloomberg’s just-released (March, 2017) Global Health Index of 163 countries shows that Italy — cradle of the Mediterranean Diet – boasts the world’s healthiest people, despite a struggling economy and unemployment among young people approaching 40%. “A baby born in Italy,” says the report, “can expect to live to be an octogenarian,” with far less incidence of high blood pressure than the US, UK, or Canada. Iceland, Switzerland, Singapore and Australia made up the rest of the top 5 healthiest nations. The US ranked 34, and tipped the scales as one of the world’s heaviest nations.

Medical research makes a good case for the Mediterranean Diet as a powerful force in staying healthy — one good way to contain healthcare costs. For example, the Mayo Clinic website states: A meta-analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality as well as overall mortality…(other) research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. The diet has been associated with a lower level of oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol that’s more likely to build up deposits in your arteries.

The Mediterranean diet is also associated with a reduced incidence of cancer, and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Women who eat a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and mixed nuts may have a reduced risk of breast cancer.

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Lemony Spaghetti Squash and Shrimp Scampi with Spicy Yogurt Sauce


Recipe by Jen Valencia of Avon, Ohio at

190 calories, 19 g protein, 3.5 g total fat (2 g saturated fat), 3 g fiber, 6 g sugar (0 g added sugar), 670 mg sodium

Nutrition analysis courtesy of Genesis software



    • 1 large spaghetti squash, cut in half, seeds removed
    • Salt and pepper to taste
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 3/4 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
    • 1 leek stalk (white and light green parts), halved and sliced
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced
    • Fresh parsley, chopped
    • 4 tablespoons Parmesan

    • 1 lemon, juiced
    • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
    • 1/2 cup dry white wine
    • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
    • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • 1/4 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt



Heat oven to 350˚F.

Season spaghetti squash with salt and pepper. Roast squash, cut side down, on a baking sheet coated with olive oil, for 45 minutes, or until tender.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and sauté shrimp and sliced leeks until shrimp is cooked through, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for additional minute, set aside.

Add lemon juice, zest, wine, Dijon mustard and red pepper flakes to pan. Bring to a boil and then let simmer on low. Remove from heat and whisk in yogurt.

Once squash is tender, remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes. Scrape out all strands of spaghetti using a fork and place in colander in the sink. Blot with a paper towel to remove excess liquid.

Toss sauce with spaghetti squash strands in serving dish. Add shrimp and leek mixture. Garnish with fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese. Serve hot.

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Mediterranean Diet Lowers Death Risk for Heart Patients


New research indicates that the Mediterranean Diet reduces the mortality risk for heart disease patients

more than taking statin medications.


Being that heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, the fact that dietary habits can make such a huge impact is remarkable, though in some ways not surprising.

The Mediterranean diet, characterized by high consumption of vegetables, fruit, olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish and poultry, is well known for its many protective benefits from various diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s and cardiovascular disease.

The major contributors to mortality risk reduction were a higher consumption of vegetables, fish, fruits, nuts and monounsaturated fatty acids — that means olive oil.– Marialaura Bonaccio, Researcher

A new study, however, looked at participants who already suffer cardiovascular disease (heart attacks, strokes, blocked arteries), which is different than many studies that evaluate general populations.

The study, titled ‘Higher adherence to Mediterranean diet is associated with lower risk of overall mortality in subjects with cardiovascular disease: prospective results from the MOLI-SANI study,’ is not yet available for full review.

Giovanni de Gaetano, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at the IRCCS Neuromed Institute in Pozzilli, Italy, presented the abstract of the paper at the ESC Congress in Rome on August 28, according to a press release from the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

In brief, the study was an observational study looking at approximately 1,200 participants out of 25,000 in the EPIC study. Food intake was evaluated via a food frequency questionnaire and the Mediterranean diet score (MDS) was used to evaluate the relationship between MedDiet consumption and total mortality.

Only 208 deaths occurred during the 7.3-year follow-up and the authors conclude that “a 2-point increase in the MDS was associated with a 21 percent reduced risk of death.” This was even greater, 37 percent, when participants had top-category adherence to the MedDiet.

“The major contributors to mortality risk reduction were a higher consumption of vegetables, fish, fruits, nuts and monounsaturated fatty acids — that means olive oil,” said Marialaura Bonaccio, the lead author of the research.

Professor de Gaetano also suggests that the mechanisms are likely related to other factors that have been seen as protective in other diseases: for example, the influence of a MedDiet with olive oil on inflammatory and oxidative stress factors that initiate and promote disease states.

In recent years, statins have been criticized by researchers as being ineffective and many of the studies on statins have not been independent, but funded by pharmaceutical companies. And, like most medications, statins come with adverse side effects.

Although more research will now be needed, Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said for The Telegraph that: “This study suggests that even if you are already receiving medical care, if you add a Mediterranean diet, it will have further benefit.

“Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, even if you have had a heart attack or stroke is really important and continues to benefit you.”

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Prawns, zucchini & cherry tomato salad

From The Southland Times at

Cherry tomatoes add a burst of colour and flavour to all manner of summer dishes.

​Serves 6 as a starter

For the sundried tomato & anchovy aioli
1 clove garlic
4 sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
3 anchovies
2 egg yolks
150ml sunflower or other neutral oil
50ml-100ml extra virgin olive oil
juice of ½ lemon (optional)

Mash the garlic to a paste with a little sea salt. Put in a food processor or blender with the sundried tomatoes and anchovies and blitz to a paste. Add the egg yolks and blitz to combine then with the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oils, continuing to process until thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper and add lemon juice or a little water to thin if necessary.

For the prawns
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 small zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds
pinch of saffron
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
12 banana or tiger prawns
½ cup mint leaves, shredded
½ cup flat-leafed parley leaves, finely chopped
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ cup dry white wine

Heat the oil in a wide saucepan or frying pan over medium heat, then fry the zucchini (in batches if necessary) until golden. Add the saffron, garlic, prawns and half the herbs and cook for a minute before adding the tomatoes and wine. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until the prawns are cooked through and the wine has evaporated. Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spoon onto a platter and scatter with the remaining herbs, then serve alongside the aioli.

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The Mediterranean diet helps prevent brain shrinkage and memory loss

From Health at:

Researchers in Scotland examined the brain volume of hundreds of older adults over three years. The investigators found that people who more closely followed the eating habits common in Mediterranean countries — lots of fruits, vegetables, olive oil and beans — retained more brain volume compared to those who did not.

“Research is accumulating to show protective effects of the Mediterranean diet on normal cognitive [mental] decline, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” said study leader Michelle Luciano.

The new study suggests the possible mechanism is in preserving brain volume, said Luciano, of the University of Edinburgh.

The Mediterranean diet is an eating style that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, olive oil instead of butter, beans and cereal grains, such as wheat and rice. Moderate amounts of fish, dairy and wine are included, while red meat and poultry are limited.

Experts know that with age, the brain shrinks and brain cells are lost. This can affect learning and memory, Luciano said.

“In our study, age had the largest effect on brain volume loss,” Luciano noted. However, “the effect of the Mediterranean diet was half the size of that due to normal aging,” she said. She considers that finding impressive.

Luciano said she found no association from fish or meat intake on preserving brain volume. That suggests it may be other components or the overall Mediterranean diet that provide the benefit.

The combination of foods may protect against factors such as inflammation and vascular disease, which can cause brain shrinkage, she added.

Heather Snyder, director of medical and scientific operations for the Alzheimer’s Association, said the new study “is confirming what we have seen before.” Snyder wasn’t involved in the research.

“This paper really adds to the data,” she said.

However, “these are associations, so we can’t say A causes B,” Snyder added.

Also, the study authors acknowledged that larger studies are needed to confirm the link.

For the study, Luciano’s group collected dietary information from almost 1,000 Scots, about age 70 and free of dementia. More than half had a brain scan at age 73. The scans measured overall volume, gray matter and the thickness of the cortex — the brain’s outer layer.

Three years later, 401 study participants returned for another measurement.

Even after accounting for other factors that might affect brain volume — such as education level, diabetes, high blood pressure or age — better brain measurements were associated with Mediterranean-style eating, the study authors said.

The study was published online Jan. 4 in the journal Neurology.

Among the study’s strengths, Snyder said, is that the participants were fairly alike in that all were residents of Scotland. That means there is likely less variation in factors that could affect brain health, such as access to medical care, she noted.

This research, along with other studies, suggest that overall diet affects thinking and brain health, Snyder added.

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends following the Mediterranean diet or the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet, developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The association’s reasoning is that what’s good for the heart is also good for the brain.

Besides a healthy diet, evidence suggests that regular physical activity, lifelong learning, and managing heart risk factors — such as diabetes and high blood pressure — may also lower the risk of mental decline, said Snyder.

More information

For more about diet and brain health, visit the Alzheimer’s Association.

The real brain food could be fresh veggies and olive oil, study finds

More info at :

It is never too late to start eating a Mediterranean. Read more at:


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