Even a Non-Organic Mediterranean Diet Better Than Western, Oldways Says – Olive Oil Times

After research stat­ing that organic food is key to the health ben­e­fits of the Mediterranean diet was pub­lished in October, food experts at Oldways have responded that eat­ing a non-organic ver­sion of the diet is still prefer­able to fol­low­ing a tra­di­tional Western diet.
The experts from the non-profit added that the health ben­e­fits of the Mediterranean diet have repeat­edly been demon­strated.
This most recent study, which was pub­lished in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, mea­sured the con­sump­tion of chem­i­cal residues and pes­ti­cides by par­tic­i­pants who switched from a Western diet to a Mediterranean diet.
The researchers then com­pared those results with sub­jects who made the same switch but ate only organic food.
Not sur­pris­ingly, pes­ti­cide residue lev­els were much lower in peo­ple after eat­ing the organic diet com­pared with either of the con­ven­tional diets,” Oldways wrote. Interestingly, the study also found higher lev­els of pes­ti­cide residues after eat­ing the con­ven­tional Mediterranean diet com­pared with the con­ven­tional Western diet.”
However, Oldways said stud­ies and researchers through­out the years point out that fol­low­ing the Mediterranean diet low­ers the risk of con­tract­ing many chronic dis­eases, espe­cially com­pared with the Western diet.
Whatever risk there may be asso­ci­ated with eat­ing con­ven­tion­ally raised fruits, veg­eta­bles, seafood and other Mediterranean sta­ples, it is clear that the benefits far out­weigh the risks,” Oldways said.
Sara Baer-Sinnot, Oldways’ pres­i­dent, and Kelly Toups, its direc­tor of nutri­tion, told Olive Oil Times that they believe the root of the mis­un­der­stand­ing comes from mak­ing broad state­ments based on the results of small stud­ies.
Many proven Mediterranean diet ben­e­fits, includ­ing a lower risk of heart dis­ease and stroke, are detected over peri­ods of sev­eral years,” Baer-Sinnott and Toups said. Because the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study was only two weeks long, it was not designed to mea­sure any long-term health impacts at all.”
In this way, not only were the ben­e­fits of a Mediterranean diet under­es­ti­mated, they were largely dis­re­garded in much of the cov­er­age of this research study,” they added. Further, this small study was not even long enough to detect if the increased pes­ti­cide expo­sure posed any mea­sur­able risk to health.”
The research con­ducted in Crete, the largest Greek island and the heart of Greek olive oil pro­duc­tion, was based on a 27-per­son sam­ple. The authors acknowl­edged the need to con­duct more exten­sive research to under­stand bet­ter the effect of chang­ing to organic food con­sump­tion on spe­cific health and health-related phys­i­o­log­i­cal para­me­ters.
One study, par­tic­u­larly one with only a few par­tic­i­pants over two weeks, should not change nutri­tion advice,” Baer-Sinnott and Toups said. Dietary guide­lines around the world place much more impor­tance on eat­ing a bal­anced, nutri­tious diet, like a Mediterranean diet, over the impor­tance of choos­ing foods of ques­tion­able nutri­tion qual­ity sim­ply because they are organic.”
Over-empha­sis on organ­ics might lead some con­sumers to think that organic junk foods are health­ier than con­ven­tion­ally grown fruits and veg­eta­bles, when in fact, the sci­ence shows that the oppo­site is true,” they added. An over­all healthy eat­ing pat­tern like the Mediterranean diet, fea­tur­ing fruits, veg­eta­bles, whole grains, legumes and extra vir­gin olive oil, is the one to fol­low, whether the food is organic or not.”
The health ben­e­fits of the Mediterranean diet are well known world­wide, to the point that the diet is included in the UNESCO’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
While organic food is gen­er­ally under­stood to be health­ier – partly due to the lack of her­bi­cides, pes­ti­cides and indus­trial fer­til­iz­ers used on crops – it might not always be avail­able, and not all con­sumers might be able to afford it.
If organic food is afford­able for one’s fam­ily, an organic Mediterranean diet eat­ing pat­tern is great,” Baer-Sinnott and Toups said. However, it’s not the only option. Nearly all stud­ies demon­strat­ing the ben­e­fits of the Mediterranean diet are done with con­ven­tion­ally grown pro­duce, not organic.”
Still, there are strate­gies that any con­sumer can adopt to opti­mize the health ben­e­fits of fresh, unprocessed food.
There are a num­ber of ways to reduce pes­ti­cide expo­sure for peo­ple who don’t have the bud­get to shop entirely organic,” Baer-Sinnott and Toups said. To save money on organic ingre­di­ents, look for canned or frozen pro­duce if fresh is not in sea­son. When your favorite fruits and veg­eta­bles are in sea­son, keep an eye out for sales.”
Baer-Sinnott and Toups also empha­sized how many pop­u­lar Mediterranean ingre­di­ents, such as onions, egg­plant, broc­coli, cab­bage, cau­li­flower and can­taloupe, have such low lev­els of pes­ti­cide residues that experts at the Environmental Working Group noted that buy­ing organic ver­sions of these ingre­di­ents won’t make much of a dif­fer­ence in terms of pes­ti­cide expo­sure.”
Additionally, research shows that soak­ing fresh fruit in a solu­tion of water and bak­ing soda for 15 min­utes can com­pletely remove the sur­face level pes­ti­cides,” they added.
Regardless, don’t let overblown fears about pes­ti­cide expo­sure keep you from eat­ing a sci­en­tif­i­cally-backed Mediterranean diet,” Baer-Sinnott and Toups con­cluded. While it remains to be seen whether an organic Mediterranean diet may offer fur­ther ben­e­fits, choos­ing a con­ven­tional Mediterranean diet is undoubt­edly a healthy step in the right direc­tion.”
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