A seafood rich diet means living longer
People in southern Europe who eat what has become known as the Mediterranean diet live longer than their northern European counterparts with a lower incidence of coronary heart disease. Now it has also been shown by a team of Israeli scientists that people who lose weight on a Mediterranean style diet keep the weight off, unlike people who follow other diets.
So what does this miracle diet consist of? A Mediterranean diet is usually described as one with plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, whole grains, legumes, olive oil and moderate amounts of alcohol (red wine). Meat consumption is low and there is virtually no consumption of butter, although feta cheese and yogurt are eaten.
However, what is now called a Mediterranean diet can often be very different to that described in early studies. And it is these differences, together with an in-depth look at the role that seafood played and still plays in the diet, which will be discussed at a special conference to be held at Fishmongers’ Hall in London on 2 November.
The conference is largely the brain child of Dr. Clive Askew, who advises the Fishmongers’ Co. on the importance of seafood in the diet and was responsible for organizing a conference on seafood and health at Fishmongers’ Hall in 2009.
“The idea for the conference and the need for it came about when, in conversation with Heart Research UK — an independent charity — we went back to original Mediterranean diet studies carried out post war most notably in Crete, where people lived healthily to a great age,” he said. “Some of the modern descriptions of Mediterranean diet bear little resemblance to the original. Terms like ‘moderate fish consumption’ raised big questions about what ‘moderate’ meant to people then and what it is taken to mean now.”
Also some of the original conclusions from the early research are now being questioned. Contacted by Askew, Dr. Artemis Simopoulos, a leading expert on Mediterranean diets, confirmed that U.S. study teams who carried out the post war research had misunderstood or mistranslated “fish” and had classified all seafood, much of which was cephalopods, as “fish.” The scientists overlooked the importance of cephalopods, which were consumed on the 180-200 fast days then held in Crete.
The study teams had concluded — completely wrongly, according to Askew — that much of the cholesterol in the diet was coming from fish, “an issue we have only started to resolve over the last five years since Bill Lands [Professor William Lands, one of the world’s most respected fatty acid scientists]explained it to us,” said Askew.
“NHS Direct [the health advice and information service provided by the National Health Service in England] then reversed its earlier advice in 2006, agreeing that fish and seafood do not raise cholesterol levels,” said Askew.
Askew said that there are some other surprises in what was clearly a “not unhealthy diet. It was very low in meat, because they [Cretans] used so many other protein sources (fish, mollusks, legumes, nuts etc.) and cheese consumption was higher than in the USA at the time.”
Some recent research publications also make the conference very timely, adds Askew.
“A paper published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which hit the headlines claiming that fish oil supplements are not effective in reducing heart disease, is being criticized for setting the statistical bar too high, and in fact all the trends are positive for fish oil.
“Prof Tom Sanders [of Kings College, London] will be putting this, as well as evidence for the direct benefits for heart disease from eating seafood, into perspective. Also there is a very recent paper in the New England Journal of Medicine which says that people who lose weight on a Mediterranean diet keep the weight off in a way that those following other diets don’t.”
Other speakers at the one-day conference, which will be attended by Princess Anne, include leading food scientists and food experts who will discuss the role of seafood in the Mediterranean diet and other issues concerning its importance in the diet.