Food study: Mediterranean diet protects you from the long-term effects of air pollution

New research has found a way to counter the long-term adverse effects of air pollution. The study, presented at the American Thoracic Society (ATS) 2018 International Conference, has suggested thateating a Mediterranean diet can help protect people from some of the long-term effects of air pollution and minimize the risk of deaths from all causes, including heart attack and stroke.

In the study, researchers evaluated data from theNational Institutes of Health (NIH) – American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) Diet and Health Study. The study followed 548,699 people, with an average age of 62 upon enrollment, for over 17 years. In that period, 126,835 participants of the study died.

The researchers grouped the participants into five according to their level of adherence to aMediterranean diet. This diet includes more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oils, fish, and poultry, and limits red meat and processed foods. It is rich in antioxidants, which eliminate free radicals in the body that cause cell and tissue damage. (Related: 11 Delicious Key Ingredients that Make The Mediterranean Diet So Nutritious.)

Then, they linked participants to estimates of long-term exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and ozone (O3) based on census tract information. After these, they compared the results of the participants who adhered the least to a Mediterranean diet with those who adhered the most to the dietary pattern.

For every 10 parts per billion (ppb) increase in long-term average NO2 exposure, deaths from all causes, cardiovascular disease deaths, and heart attack deaths increased by five, 10, and 12 percent, respectively, among participants with the least adherence to a Mediterranean diet. In comparison, participants with the most adherence to a Mediterranean diet only had two, two, and four percent increased deaths, respectively.

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For every 10 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3) increase in long-term average PM2.5 exposure, cardiovascular disease and heart attack deaths increased by 17 and 20 percent, respectively, in those with the least adherence, compared to the five percent increased risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack deaths in those who adhered the most to a Mediterranean diet. However, adherence to a Mediterranean diet did not provide protection against the detrimental side effects of long-term exposure to O3.

“Given the benefits we found of a diet high in anti-oxidants, our results are consistent with the hypothesis that particle air pollution caused by fossil fuel combustion adversely affects health by inducing oxidative stress and inflammation,” said George Thurston, of the New York University School of Medicine and senior author of the study.

The researchers concluded that following a Mediterranean diet can help minimize the negative effects of air pollution.

Tips on following the Mediterranean diet

Not sure on how to get started eating a Mediterranean diet? Here are some tips:

  • Change your cooking oil – Instead of using vegetable or coconut oil, use extra-virgin olive oil. This oil is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids which may enhance HDL or good cholesterol. You can also use olive oil in making salad dressings and vinaigrette.
  • Consume more fatty fish – Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel are rich in heart- and brain-healthy fatty acids. You can start by designating one day each week as fish night.
  • Eat vegetables all day – You can snack on crunchy vegetables like carrots or bell pepper strips, make a smoothie with a handful of spinach, or make quick and easy vegetable side dishes. Try to eat at least two servings of vegetables each day.
  • Experiment with whole grains – Quinoa can be a good side dish for meals; barley can be paired with mushrooms for soup; a bowl of oatmeal can be a healthy breakfast.
  • Eat nuts as snacks – Munching on nuts is an easy and simple way to start eating a Mediterranean diet. Nuts contain more fiber and minerals than processed snack foods.
  • Eat fruits for dessert – Satisfy your sweet craving with fresh fruits instead of cakes and other sweetened foods. Eating fruits is a healthier way to indulge your sweet tooth as fruits are a good source of fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants. You can also snack on them.

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