Following the Mediterranean diet is one of the best ways to prevent cardiovascular diseases. However, as PREDIMED study (Prevention with the Mediterranean Diet) coordinator Dr. Ramón Estruch told Wiki Spanish Food, unlike previous generations, the custom of following that style of eating is on the decline. The most recent edition of PREDIMED proved, once again, that olive oil is one of the diet's key elements and that consumption of four to five tablespoons of raw extra virgin olive oil per day not only wards off heart disease, but also cognitive impairment and depression. Estruch, who is also a senior consultant at Hospital Clínic in Barcelona and associate professor at the School of Medicine, highlighted the need for scientific institutions and associations to promote the Mediterranean diet.
What new findings have been discovered in the latest edition of PREDIMED?
PREDIMED is the first study in the world to demonstrate that the Mediterranean diets prevent the appearance of acute cardiovascular complications, such as heart attacks, strokes, and cardiac death in people with high cardiovascular risk. Although this information has already been noted in other studies, PREDIMED contributed the greatest scientific evidence to confirm these effects. Accordingly, going forward, scientific associations and institutions are expected to recommend the Mediterranean diet to prevent heart disease.
What is the objective of the PREDIMED study?
The goals were precisely those that we were able to demonstrate: that the Mediterranean diet is a very useful tool in preventing cardiovascular disease.
Considering that Spain is the birthplace of the Mediterranean diet, would you describe the country's eating habits as "good"? What aspects can be improved?
In Spain, we think we eat very well, but that's only partially true. Our parents and grandparents were the ones who ate healthy. The diet we inherited from our ancestors is falling into disuse, even though we are a Mediterranean country. The diet in Spain is declining in quality and, consequently, doctors, nutritionists, dietitians, food sector companies and, in particular, the government and public institutions must work to restore this tradition so that it's not lost forever.
How important are opinion leaders in raising awareness among consumers about the effects of the Mediterranean diet on health?
Currently, consumers want as much information as possible about the food they buy and eat. There is a growing concern for health and the role that food plays in preserving it. As scientists, we must communicate the results of our studies to society using every channel at our disposal. That will help improve the population's health, which will reduce the rate of illness and, consequently, healthcare spending, which is currently a very worrying issue. This will create a link between consumer interest and our obligations. Together we will achieve the proposed objective: to improve the health of many people.
What role does extra virgin olive oil play in the results of the study?
Olive oil is a crucial food in the Mediterranean diet and, accordingly, it was vital for obtaining such impressive results.
How much extra virgin olive oil should we eat?
The study recommended that participants in the group eating a Mediterranean diet consume 50 milliliters of extra virgin olive oil per day, preferably raw. That gave rise to our recommendation of eating four to five tablespoons of raw extra-virgin olive oil on a daily basis.
The most recent PREDIMED study addresses diabetes prevention through the Mediterranean diet. How does olive oil affect this disease?
It's a fundamental component of the Mediterranean diet, and through the study we have shown that extra virgin olive oil is a basic food in preventing not only cardiovascular illness, but also cognitive decline and depression.
In December 2012, the new European Regulation 432/2012 entered into force, establishing a list of permitted health claims made on foods. It includes three claims: on how the consumption of olive oil helps maintain normal blood cholesterol levels, how the daily intake of at least 20 grams of olive oil (mainly virgin) has healthy effects due to the polyphenol content; and how, in the future, olive oils will be able to advertise their health benefits on labels in Europe. Could these claims be included in the study?
That's the next step, and it's something we should all work towards together. We currently have considerable scientific evidence to confirm that claim.