The diet that has been hailed for its ability to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and premature death, now has a new offering: the ability to protect against air pollution. The Mediterranean diet, hailed as a powerhouse when it comes to disease prevention, consists of plentiful amounts of fruits and vegetables, along with grains, legumes, olives and olive oil, and limited amounts of fish and meat.
We’ve all read the many health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, but the newest study advocating for this healthy way of eating, conducted by the New York University School of Medicine and presented at the American Thoracic Society’s International Conference, found that the diet confers even more benefits than previously thought. The study found that the diet may help protect against air pollution.
The diet was found to help protect against long-term exposure to air pollutants, reducing the incidence of death caused by pollution. The high level of antioxidants in this diet appears to be responsible for its pollution-protective properties, particularly against pollution resulting from fossil fuel combustion. While air pollution has been linked to a wide variety of health conditions, from respiratory ailments to brain disease, this particular study only explored the risk of death linked to heart disease and heart attacks.
While no diet can completely protect us against the growing amount of air pollution to which we are exposed, the study offers hope that we can minimize its damaging effects through eating more antioxidant-rich foods like those found in the Mediterranean diet. Some of the foods on this diet that are highest in antioxidants include: purple and red grapes, olives and olive oil, purple plums, tomatoes, leafy greens, citrus fruits, basil, oregano, garlic and onions.
Antioxidants work by attaching to harmful free radicals, such as pollutants, to prevent them from wreaking havoc on healthy tissues in the lungs, cardiovascular system, brain or elsewhere in the body.
In earlier research published in the International Journal of Cancer, researchers found a link between the Mediterranean diet and a reduced risk of breast cancer. The diet has also been linked to a reduction in the risk of diabetes, according to research published in the American Diabetes Association’s journal Diabetes Care. Additionally, research published in the medical journal Epidemiology found that the Mediterranean diet slowed the rate of cognitive decline and dementia that are often linked to aging.
Of course, finding ways to reduce air pollution is also important, but it helps to know that we can maximize our protection against the inevitable air pollution we come in contact with through a healthy diet. So, load up on vegetables, fruit, olive oil (choose organic, cold-pressed varieties), whole grains, legumes. While small amounts of fish and poultry are included as part of the Mediterranean diets, you can omit them for a plant-based version.