The Med diet, rich in cereals, fruits, legumes and whole grains, fish and olive oil, has been linked to longer life, less heart disease, and protection against some cancers. The diet's main nutritional components include beta-carotene, vitamin C, tocopherols, polyphenols, and essential minerals.
A recent report from the International Obesity Task Force said 75 per cent of Greek women were overweight or obese, while the men were not far behind with 72 per cent. The prevalence of heart disease is also high in Greece, leading some people to link the unsaturated fat-rich diet to rising obesity levels.
The cross-sectional study surveyed the diet of 1514 men and 1528 women with an average age of 45. The diets were evaluated using a self-administered, validated food frequency questionnaire. Daily or weekly intake of 156 different foods was reported, along with alcohol consumption and physical activity.
"Greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with a 51 per cent lower odds of being obese and a 59 per cent lower odds of having central obesity," wrote lead author Demosthenes Panagiotakos in the journal Nutrition (available online February 2006, doi:10.1016/j.nut.2005.11.004).
The authors addressed the controversy that, although eating a Mediterranean diet is linked to lower rates of obesity, a large portion of the Greek population is considered overweight or obese.
"Greeks seem to have a dietary pattern other than the Mediterranean one because the average diet score was low," said Panagiotakos.
This supports another Greek study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Vol. 82, pp. 935-940) which concluded, "Overweight is a genuine problem in Greece and perhaps other Mediterranean countries, but it is likely to be related to limited physical activity in conjunction with excessive positive energy balance, brought about by the westernization of the Mediterranean diet."
"Our findings have a significant public health message because the adoption of this dietary pattern seems to moderate the prevalence of obesity and, presumably, cardiovascular risk," concluded Panagiotakos.