Leading dietitian expounds on health benefits of the Mediterranean diet


The next instalment of Delphi Bank’s Delphi Connect online series has been released online and this month it draws special focus on Breast Cancer Awareness with its Pink Ribbon Edition interview with Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos who spoke about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

The Head of School, School of Allied Health at LaTrobe University. Dr Itsiopoulos spoke to Paul Orfanos, Delphi Bank’s National Community Engagement Manager about the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet of which she is an acknowledged expert.

Dr Itsiopoulos said that the first study on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet was conducted in the 1950s by American physiologist Ancel Keys who identified saturated fat as a major cause of heart disease.

She said the Mediterranean diet was not a complicated one to follow and was beneficial to sufferers of a range of diseases from diabetes, to heart disease and even helping in the reversal of anxiety and depression.

She said studies in Europe and Australia had shown that the Mediterranean diet had contributed to a 30 percent reduction in heart disease, 55 percent reduction in risk of diabetes. It could also prevent secondary heart disease.

She said it did not matter if the diet was adopted late in life but that the benefits were apparent.

“A PhD study by Katherine Sarafis of La Trobe University shows that if only extra virgin olive oil was included, we can see significant changes in blood pressure in as a little as a few weeks’ time. Just with olive oil we can see significant cardio vascular benefits.

The key elements of the Mediterranean included the use of extra virgin olive oil, plain food at every meal that included fresh vegetables, such as tomato onion, herbs and fruit as well as whole grain, sour dough breads. Other elements of the diet included fish, wine in moderation, two vegetable dishes a week.

“Regular physical activity, adequate rest, conviviality -eating socially with friends and family and eating foods that are in season …” were other factors that went with the diet, she said.

Dr Itsiopoulos said her focus on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet had begun 20 years ago with her PhD study of the effect of the diet on Anglo-Celt patients with Type-2 diabetes.

“They ate traditional Cretan food prepared by my mother and the mothers of colleagues. Within three months the diabetes was brought under control, there was weight loss, their skin improved and their energy levels increased.

READ MORE: How the Mediterranean diet became No 1 — and why that’s a problem

She found in her studies that a Mediterranean diet also produces a 40 percent reduction of fatty liver which, in turn, reduces the risk of contracting diabetes. There was no reduction in fatty liver for those who followed a low-fat diet alone.

Her researches took her to Icaria which, along with Sardinia, has a very long living population – the highest concentration of people over 95 years of age in the world.

“I interviewed people who were in their late 90s and 100s and they said they consumed a very plain diet of locally grown foods that included lots of edible greens, legumes and fruit. They produced their own olive oil, wine and honey. They also had ‘free-roaming’ meat in their diet including goats which ate the local vegetation.

“They were very sociable – there were over 100 festivals. The island is very mountainous with few roads and they walked everywhere. It is also very important to have a purpose in life.

One of the key benefits of the diet was that it was generally easy and quick to prepare in the case of salads or simple dishes such as fasolatha. Which meant they were easy to prepare after a day’s work.

“You can add fish, some tomato, garlic and fresh parsley with olive oil to cook in the oven with sweet potatoes to be ready in 45 minutes. The more complicated dishes, such as moussaka, you can prepare during the weekend and store in the freezer.

She said there were “Ten Commandments” to follow in a Mediterranean diet. She said the following the first three principles could be sufficient but not ideal and these included: Using Extra Virigin Olive Oil as the main fat, using vegetables and salads to accompany every main meal and eating legumes twice a week.

The Ten Commandments of the Mediterranean Diet according to Dr Catherine Itsiopoulos. Photo: Screenshot

♦To view Dr Itsiopoulos’ talk on the Mediterranean Die click on the LinkedIn site for the talk  or click on the YouTube link. For more information on breast cancer awaress click on the Breast Cancer Foundation link.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *