The Mediterranean Diet, favoured by fitness fanatics, healthcare professionals and post-heart attack patients has recently come in for some unjustified stick. The current rumour circulating is that it comes with a risk of infertility! Let’s delve a little deeper to understand what the latest research actually means.
The Mediterranean diet is inspired by the eating habits of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It draws primarily on the eating habits of Greece, Italy and Spain. It also incorporates elements of other regional cuisines, such as Turkey and North Africa.
Essentially the diet consists of:
- Olive oil
- Unrefined cereals
- Moderate consumption of cheese and yogurt
- Low/moderate consumption of wine
- Low consumption of meat.
Overall reduction in death rates
It all looks very healthy and comes with some impressive credentials. For instance, the Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduction in overall death rates compared with other diets in non-Mediterranean countries. There is also some evidence that it lowers the risk of heart disease and early death.
As a result, the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association recommend the Mediterranean diet as a healthy eating pattern to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. There is also some evidence that the diet may help with weight loss in obese people. Correspondingly, by reducing obesity, a risk factor for infertility it could, theoretically improve the chance of conceiving.
There are now some emerging reports in the mainstream media that the Mediterranean Diet may come with added health risks compared to a traditional British diet, which is much heavier in terms of red meat and dairy product consumption.
These reports are based on a study by scientists at the University of Oslo, which suggests that following a Mediterranean diet actually comes with added health risks. The research team found that fruit, vegetables and whole grains farmed in the traditional way passed on more environmental chemicals to the consumer, which are known to lead to fertility issues.
The key here is the word traditional. This is because, these days, counter-intuitively, traditional means farming the fruit and grains with pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers.
Understanding the data
Speaking to the UK’s Daily Telegraph, Professor Carlo Leifert, Lead Scientist who led the research team, commented that environmental chemicals can affect hormones in the human body. He said, “There is growing evidence that such toxins can weaken our immune defence system and perhaps also our fertility. If hormones become imbalanced, they can also have a negative effect on the growth and development of children. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains cultivated in the conventional way are some of the main sources of environmental contaminants absorbed through our diet. Since a Mediterranean diet is based on such foods, those eating it had a ten times higher intake of these contaminants than if their diet had been based on foods cultivated organically.”
Organic reduces chemical intake
However, when Professor Leifert’s researchers switched their subjects from consuming traditionally farmed food components of the Mediterranean diet to components that were organically farmed they found that the chance of unwanted environmental chemical intake fell by 90%.
This means that an organic Mediterranean diet brings all the inherent benefits of that food system. This includes benefits for fertility, without the problems associated with traditional farming practices.