Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 26th 2015 Contents A26
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, October 26, 2015
For decades, health authorities have argued that
the diet of people living in Mediterranean countries,
with its emphasis on olive oil, nuts and fresh pro-
duce, is a driving force behind the region s his-
torically low rates of heart disease.
But now a team of filmmakers led by a British
cardiologist say that the function of the Mediter-
ranean diet may have been oversimplified. They
contend in a new film that the region s good health
is driven not only by food, but by an array of lifestyle
factors, some of which they claim have been over-
In their new film, they hope to show viewers how
these factors come together to promote longevity
and to also clarify some misconceptions about the
Mediterranean diet itself.
The new film is called the Pioppi Protocol, and
it is set in the small town of Pioppi, Italy, just south
of Naples. The filmmakers chose the town because
Ancel Keys, the first scientist to champion the health
benefits of the Mediterranean diet, lived there for
much of the last three decades of his life.
Keys conducted epidemiological research linking
saturated fat to heart disease. His work also inspired
the widespread adoption of low-fat diets, which
many health authorities no longer endorse.
Dr Aseem Malhotra said he was inspired to visit
the Mediterranean and spend time learning about
the traditional diet in which he believes so strongly
that he prescribes olive oil to his patients.
Dr Malhotra, an interventional cardiologist and
adviser to the United Kingdom s national obesity
forum, said studies show that people who quit
smoking see large and immediate reductions in their
risk of heart attacks and strokes. But something
that his heart disease patients often fail to appreciate,
he said, is that changes in diet can have a similarly
"There is a perception among people who have
heart attacks and heart disease---and I see this in
my patients---that there s already so much damage
there s not much they can do," Dr Malhotra said.
"But by changing your diet, you can dramatically
reduce your risk of having a heart attack even if
you have coronary artery disease. We have data
suggesting that the risk reduction can happen within
Dr Malhotra visited the Mediterranean with a
documentary filmmaker, Donal O Neill. Together
they noticed that a healthful diet was one of many
factors that seemed to play a role in the longevity
of people in Pioppi, where the average person has
a life expectancy of about 90.
They were surprised by how the people they
encountered enjoyed and savoured their food, turning
every meal into an excuse for a social occasion with
friends and family. They noticed that people spent
a lot of time outdoors getting fresh air. Instead of
designating daily periods of time to jog or exercise,
they engaged in a great deal of leisurely physical
activity like walking and riding bicycles. And they
seemed to have low levels of chronic stress.
"We need to redefine the Mediterranean diet," Dr
Malhotra said. "The truth is that it s a lifestyle. It s
the whole approach. It s the food. It s the social
interaction. It s getting the right kind of exercise.
It s being outside. It s getting sunlight and sunshine.
The question, though, is how can we combine all
these lessons from this village with what we know
about modern medicine."
Dr Malhotra and O Neill were also surprised by
what they learned about food in the Mediterranean.
Although olive oil and vegetables were a constant,
some aspects of the traditional diet varied greatly
from one part of the region to the next. They found
that pork and lamb were common in some areas,
but that sugar was traditionally consumed infre-
quently. They learned that all olive oils are not
created equal. And they discovered that the type of
The Mediterranean diet:
Is it the food or the lifestyle?
grain typically eaten in Pioppi is very different from
what most Americans consume.
Dr Malhotra said that in the film he would try
to address some misconceptions about the diet
while showing people how they could improve their
health in only a few weeks by adopting various
aspects of the Mediterranean lifestyle.
"We want to show people that this is something
that s feasible for them," Dr Malhotra said. "Simple
changes can make a dramatic change to their health
and vitality in a short space of time." (NYT)
Although olive oil
were a constant,
some aspects of
greatly from one
part of the region
to the next. They
found that pork
and lamb were
common in some
areas, but that
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