Whenever anyone mentions that they’re keen to adopt a healthier diet, or lose some of those leftover pounds, people are usually quick to suggest something like the Mediterranean diet plan.
And why wouldn’t they? It’s a diet full of fresh fruit and vegetables, nutritious, fibre-filled grains, and low-cal fish, inspired by the natural diets of the countries surrounding the Meditteranean sea. Plus, it also involves the occasional bit of cheese, which can only be a good thing.
But it seems that the popular diet, favoured by thousands of people all over the world, might not provide exactly the same benefits for everyone, according to a new Italian study.
Researchers from the Mediterranean Neurological Institute in Pozzilli revealed that their study has shown that wealthier people are likely to benefit far more from the diet than those who are less well off, because of their access to better quality ingredients.
The study, published in The International Journal of Epidemiology, surveyed over 18,000 men and women from the Molise region in Italy, a famously mountainous area, over a four year-period.
It found that even though the two different social groups adhered to the diet in almost the exact same way, only the wealthier group cut their risk of heart disease by following the plan, given the fact that they were more likely to consume healthier versions of its required ingredients, such as fruit and vegetables.
Remarkably, it even found that less financially viable groups actually got little to no benefit from the diet, which is high in oily fish and beans.
The researchers even discovered that while the Mediterranean diet cut the risk of heart disease in its recipient by 15%, the statement was only true for people with a household income of £35,000 or higher.
It’s a significant finding, as it suggests that the quality of the food eaten in the Meditterranean diet plan is actually of more value than the diet itself.
Lead researcher Dr Marialaura Bonaccio, said of the findings, “The cardiovascular benefits associated with the Mediterranean diet in a general population are well known. Yet, for the first time, our study has revealed that the socio-economic position is able to modulate the health advantages linked to Mediterranean diet.”
They also speculated that higher income families were able to buy food higher in antioxidants, and lower in pesticides.
Dr Licia Lacoviello, who was also co-author of the study, said, “These substantial differences in consuming products belonging to Mediterranean diet lead us to think that quality of foods may be as important for health as quantity and frequency of intake.”
Dr Tim Chico, a professor in cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield, also told The Independent, “This study confirms a well-known but depressing fact; people of lower education or income have almost double the risk of heart disease compared with those who are better off.
However, he also revealed that the differences in benefit may be due to other factors,a and reaffirmed that people certainly shouldn’t be put off following the Mediterranean diet.
He said, “Although the authors of this study suggest that the Mediterranean diet may be less effective in reducing heart disease in less well-off people, this is likely to be due to other differences between low and high income groups, rather than the diet not being effective.
“The authors suggest that there are some elements of the Mediterranean diet that are eaten more often by high rather than low-income groups, but there are other possible explanations for these findings.
“These findings should not put anyone off a Mediterranean diet; this is still the best option for reducing risk of heart disease.”