News | Published August 15, 2012

Is the Mediterranean diet as good as the claims? A nutritionist shares her knowledge at the Family Medicine Seminar Series

"Emerging research is backing up the claims that the Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that helps to prevent chronic disease such as coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease," according to Kathryn M. Kolasa, PhD, RD, LDN, professor emeritus at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.

"But you don't just follow the food plan, you follow the lifestyle too," said Kolasa, whose lecture is part of the Family Medicine Seminar Series (FMSS) on August 16 at Mount Nittany Medical Center, and will include the recommendation of following the Mediterranean lifestyle - physical activity, and an unhurried, relaxed, and enjoyable meal away from work.

Titled, "Hot Topics in Nutrition and Dietary Supplements," the program is presented in collaboration with the Penn State College of Medicine Department of Family and Community Medicine. Although the lecture is open to the public, the purpose of the FMSS is to provide continuing education for healthcare providers. The Medical Center designates the activity for a maximum of five AMA PRA Category 1 credits. Healthcare providers may register for the buffet dinner at 6:00 pm and then attend the lecture at 6:30 pm.

Kolasa said that it is likely that family physicians today are getting questions about the Mediterranean diet. Her lecture will include a handout that will allow participants to "rate" their current diet to see how many and what kind of changes might be necessary to follow a Mediterranean diet.

The basic Mediterranean diet includes a reliance on plant foods such as vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, nuts, olives, and olive oil along with some cheese, yogurt, fish, poultry, eggs, and wine. These foods form the basis of the plan and provide thousands of micronutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber that work together to protect against chronic disease.

Most of the foods on the plan are fresh, seasonal, whole foods - they are not processed. Preparation methods tend to be simple; foods are rarely deep-fried. Only small amounts of saturated fat, sodium, sweets, and meat are part of the plan.

Two common questions that a physician might encounter according to Kolasa are: Do I have to drink wine? Is olive oil necessary? As for the alcohol, Kolasa said that there is evidence to support that ½ to one drink a day is associated with 26 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 35 percent decrease in the risk of mortality.

Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat - mainly omega 9. About 44 grams should be consumed each day for a person on a 2,000-calorie plan. But, other oils besides olive oil will provide a benefit, and they include canola, sunflower, safflower, peanut, pistachio, almond and avocado.

The Mediterranean diet is potentially good for a number of chronic conditions, according to Kolasa. These include diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and skin cancer.

Dr. Kolasa will also discuss novel ingredients that are being added to foods to make them healthy like special fibers and plant sterol esters and she will review the confusing recommendations about risks and benefits of taking multiple vitamins, and calcium and vitamin D supplements.

The FFMS presentation about the Mediterranean diet will be held on Aug. 16 at 6:30 pm in the Galen and Nancy Dreibelbis Auditorium at Mount Nittany Medical Center located at 1800 East Park Avenue. For more information, contact or call 814.234.6738.