According to current scientific knowledge, the Mediterranean diet protects against cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and cancer with plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, fish, legumes, cereals and olive oil as well as little meat, dairy products and moderate alcohol consumption. Until now, however, it was unclear whether the Mediterranean diet could also reduce the risk of chronic diseases within Germany. "After all, it is a regional form of nutrition that is socially and culturally shaped by the Mediterranean region," said Professor Matthias Schulze, head of the Department of Molecular Epidemiology at the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke (DIfE). He and his team investigated whether the positive effects of the Mediterranean diet also occurred among the test persons of the EPIC study in Potsdam despite cultural differences.
The scientists evaluated the data of around 27,500 people. Using established scores, they calculated the correlation between the degree of adherence to the Mediterranean diet and the incidence of type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke and cancer. Study participants who followed the diet relatively strictly had a 20 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to participants who only partially adhered to the Mediterranean diet. In addition, the researchers observed that people who followed the Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of heart attack.
What about the Nordic diet?
In addition to the Mediterranean diet, Schulze's interdisciplinary team also investigated the influence of the Nordic diet on chronic diseases.
It consists of foods common in Northern Europe such as apples, pears, berries, root vegetables, cabbage, whole grain cereals, rye bread and cereal flakes. It also includes fish, dairy products, potatoes and regionally typical vegetable fats. The epidemiologists did not observe a clear relationship to chronic diseases. Nevertheless, the results indicate that people who follow this diet may be less likely to develop a heart attack.
An association between the Mediterranean diet or the Nordic Diet and cancer was not observed. "Nevertheless, it is possible that the Mediterranean diet and the Nordic diet may also reduce the risk of cancer within the German population. To see associations here, we would probably have to focus even more specifically on individual types of cancer," said Cecilia Galbete, the first author of the study. The goal of the research team is to develop generally applicable, cross-cultural and easy-to-implement dietary recommendations.
Galbete C, Kröger J, Jannasch F, Iqbal K, Schwingshackl L, Schwedhelm C, Weikert C, Boeing H, Schulze MB. Nordic diet, Mediterranean diet, and the risk of chronic diseases: the EPIC-Potsdam study. BMC Medicine 2018 (https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-018-1082-y)
Schulze MB, Martinez-Gonzales MA, Fung TT, Lichtenstein AH, Forouhi NG. Food based dietary patterns and chronic disease prevention- current understanding, areas of uncertainty and future research directions. BMJ 2018 (https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k2396)
The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Potsdam Study is a prospective cohort study. Between 1994 and 1998, 27,548 women and men between the ages of 35 and 65 were recruited. They completed questionnaires on their eating habits, lifestyle and health status. This survey was repeated approximately every 3 years. The EPIC Potsdam study is part of one of the largest long-term studies worldwide with a total of approximately 521,000 study participants from ten European countries. The aim is to investigate the influence of diet on the development of cancer and other chronic diseases.
The multidisciplinary project Nutritional Intervention for Healthy Aging: Food Patterns, Behavior, and Products – NutriAct for short – is a competence cluster in nutrition research funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with 12 million euros. The main objective is to improve the health status of fifty to seventy-year-olds. Network partners come from science (nutritional science, food chemistry and technology, biology, medicine and the humanities and social sciences) and industry. Professor Tilman Grune, scientific director of the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke (DIfE), is head of the multidisciplinary project, in which more than 30 research institutions and companies are involved.