The Mediterranean diet strengthens the immune system, thanks to a mix of good habits, not just food. The effects of this lifestyle, which became an intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2010, are retraced by a study (Trajkovska Petkoska and Trajkovska-Broach, 2021) published in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Mediterranean diet is a friend of the immune system
The researchers study authors recall that human health and general well-being are strongly influenced by the individual's diet, lifestyle, age and genetics. But also by its response to stress, pathogens and environmental pollution, mainly dictated by the immune system.
The immune system, in turn, strongly depends on conditions of the intestinal microbiota, i.e. the community of microorganisms that populate the intestine and communicate with the brain through it (brain gut axis).
The crucial role of the Mediterranean diet is soon clarified. 'Rich in valuable phytonutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and antioxidant polyphenols, along with the social aspects of the diet, it could help build a healthy gut and strong immune system'.
Maintain a 'Mediterranean' gut
The invasion of ultra-processed foods with unbalanced nutritional profiles (HFSS, High in Fats, Sugars and Sodium) has unfortunately overshadowed the style of the Mediterranean diet precisely in the countries of origin.
The scheme of the diet Mediterranean, however, in itself is very simple. Foods are classified according to the frequency of consumption and healthiness.
The benefits are more prominent in the organic food, as emerges from scientific evidence also by virtue of the absence of synthetic pesticide residues, which are very probable in non-organic products, such as we have seenas well as residual traces of antibiotics in products of animal origin (contributing factor to the deadly antimicrobial-resistance).
Menu for a 'Mediterranean intestine'
The classic menu of the Mediterranean diet, in its variety linked to the availability of fresh seasonal foods, is based on a few simple criteria.
Plenty of vegetables
Fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes and seeds should make up the largest portion of the daily diet.
The complex mixtures of phytocompounds present in plants - i.e. in roots, seeds, leaves, flowers and fruits - give them a unique colour, smell and taste, as well as determine their bioactivities and their bioavailability in the intestine .
To ensure a broad spectrum of protective phytocompounds, it is recommended to consume a variety of 'bright colors and textures', i.e. a rainbow of colorful fresh vegetables and fruits.
Vegetables are important sources of polyphenolic compounds (ie flavonols, flavones, stilbenes, etc.), dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, K, E, B6, folate, copper, potassium, magnesium, iron and choline, among many others. And these phytochemicals have been shown to have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activities within the body. (2)
Also, the wealth of dietary fibers of plants promotes the sense of satiety, useful for the intestine, digestion and maintenance of a normal weight.
Food of animal origin
Fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products fermented (yogurt, cheese ect.) must be alternated to consume each one a couple of times a week.
Processed red meats, such as cured meats and other red meat-based products, must be limited, considered as an exception to the rule. Even the recent one FAO report reiterates the need to limit its consumption.
Cakes, pastries, snack and other products with added sugars are at the top of the food pyramid. It is recommended to reduce its consumption in quantity and frequency, no more than once or twice a week, perhaps during convivial lunches or on holidays.
The consumption of sugars added adversely affects health and should be minimized, concluded EFSA in opinion published on 28.2.22.
Constant hydration must be pursued, consuming plenty of water, fruit juices and herbal teas, with no added sugar. The study under examination also considers the hypothesis of a moderate consumption of red wine, during meals, in spite of solid scientific literature of different opinion.
Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is the distinctive element of the Mediterranean diet. Consumed raw (or possibly cooked delicately, so as not to compromise its nutritional qualities) it is also the ideal base for preparing the typical sauces based on onion or garlic and tomato (rich in bioavailable lycopene and protective against hypertension, when cooked).
The composition of fatty acids (in particular monounsaturated fatty acids, MUFA) and the richness and variety of bioavailable polyphenols (to a greater extent in organic farming) give EVOO protective health benefits.
The extra virgin olive oil it is one of the most studied oils. It is related to prolonging life expectancy and reducing the risk of many age-related degenerative diseases, as well as positively influencing blood lipid profiles ('bad' cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides) and is inversely associated with the risk of different types of cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Il junk food breaks down the immune system
All foods typical of the Mediterranean diet provide various nutrients, such as vitamins (A, B6, B12, C, D, E and folate), trace elements (including zinc, iron, selenium, magnesium and copper) and Omega-3 fatty acids which they play an important and complementary role also in favor of the immune system.
Ultraprocessed foods with excessive salt, sugar and fat content (junk food), conversely, they stimulate the inflammatory processes underlying obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, Alzheimer's disease and some types of cancer, which originate in the intestine and progress as a result of long-term inflammation.
In Europe, 68% of baby food is junk food. And their consumption by young people is promoted by irresponsible industrial giants through perverse techniques such as the CD influence marketing on social networks, as with us in vain reported to the Antitrust.
Beyond meals, beneficial socializing and rest
Basic to strengthen the immune system is also lifestyle traditionally associated with the Mediterranean diet.
Rest enough, i.e. sleep well and rest during the day (whenever possible). Carry out daily physical exercises, cultivate leisure with relationship social activities, eat together. It's still, manage anxiety and stress and maintaining a positive, optimistic mindset are all factors linked with positive effects on the intestinal microbiota and therefore on immunity.
The Mediterranean diet is in fact defined by UNESCO as 'a set of skills, knowledge, rituals, symbols and traditions concerning crops, harvesting, fishing, breeding, conservation, transformation, cooking and, in particular, sharing and consumption of food'.
A sustainable food system
A completely marginal aspect is also the sustainability of the food system on which the Mediterranean diet is based.
'It's a healthy diet which includes the fundamental pillars of sustainability (environment, society and economy) and is in line with i 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2015)', note the study authors.
On this premise, the biological system it is the essential substrate for the purpose. Cultivate without recourse to pesticides ed herbicides in summary, protecting biodiversity, the soil, the waters, safeguarding animal welfare on farms is the only way to a healthy and sustainable diet for man and the environment.
(1) Trajkovska Petkoska, A., Trajkovska-Broach, A. (2021). Mediterranean Diet. A Healthy Dietary Pattern and Lifestyle for Strong Immunity. In: Agarwal, P., Nieto, JJ, Ruzhansky, M., Torres, DFM (eds) Analysis of Infectious Disease Problems (Covid-19) and Their Global Impact. Infosys Science Foundation Series (). Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-16-2450-6_13
(2) Oxidative stress is the result of the generation of oxidative species (free radicals, reactive oxygen and reactive nitrogenous species) in the body. It is usually triggered by unhealthy diets and external factors, such as smoke, pollution, chemicals, drugs and UV rays. Oxidative stress causes structural and functional damage to the main biomolecules of the body, including DNA, lipids and proteins. It is implicated in the pathogenesis of many chronic degenerative diseases, inflammations, neurodegenerative disorders and aging processes.
Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".