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The Mediterranean diet only has heart benefits for the well-off, says study

The researchers have concluded that the quality of the food may be as important as the frequency in which it’s eaten.

Image: Alicja neumiler via Shutterstock

THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, but only if you are rich or highly educated, according to Italian researchers.

A Mediterranean diet is generally comprising fruits and nuts, vegetables, legumes, cereals, fish, fats, meat, dairy products and alcohol, and is said to result in heart benefits.

Now an Italian study has indicated that those benefits are strongly influenced by socio-economic factors.

When the diet is followed regularly, the study showed that the reduction in cardiovascular risk is observed only in people with a higher educational level and/or greater household income.

No actual benefits were observed for the less advantaged groups, according to the Italian research centre IRCCS Neuromed.

“The cardiovascular benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet in a general population are well-known,” says Marialaura Bonaccio, researcher at Neuromed’s Department of Epidemiology and Prevention.

She adds that this is the first study that has observed a socioeconomic influence.

Bonaccio explains: “…a person from low socioeconomic status who struggles to follow a Mediterranean model is unlikely to get the same advantages of a person with higher income, despite the fact that they both similarly adhere to the same healthy diet”.

The researchers also tried to unravel the possible mechanisms underlying those results.

“Given a comparable adherence to the Mediterranean diet, the most advantaged groups were more likely to report a larger number of indices of high quality diet as opposed to people with low socioeconomic status,” explains Licia Iacoviello, head of the laboratory of nutritional and molecular epidemiology at the department.

For example, within those reporting an optimal adherence to the Mediterranean diet, people with high income or higher educational level consumed products richer in antioxidants and polyphenols, and had a greater diversity in fruit and vegetables choice.

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This has led researchers to conclude that the way in which food is cooked and the quality of the food that people cook with “may be as important for health as quantity and frequency of intake”.

“Our results should promote a serious consideration of socioeconomic scenario of health,” says Giovanni de Gaetano, director of the department.

We cannot keep saying that the Mediterranean diet is good for health if we are not able to guarantee an equal access to it.

This finding by researchers from IRCCS Neuromed performed the study on over 18,000 subjects and published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Read: Ireland still ‘on course to become the most obese nation in Europe’

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