The established medical community feels there are a few diets that have health value. The three main ones are the DASH diet, the vegan diet and the Mediterranean diet. There have been multiple studies showing that the Mediterranean diet results in a better cardiovascular risk profile than the Western diet. A recent study (1) out of Italy examined how the Mediterranean diet affects some of the inflammatory markers in the blood. Other medical studies have shown that increased inflammatory markers in the blood are associated with more cardiovascular risk.
Mediterranean Diet Reduces Inflammation
The researchers commented that the diet of the typical Italian has been changing from a traditional Mediterranean diet to a more Western diet. They studied 131 subjects in southern and central Italy to determine how much adherence to the Mediterranean diet influenced these inflammatory markers. They measured many of the micronutrients that the medical literature has considered antioxidants. When they began the study, the lack of value of the antioxidant capacity had not been realized yet. The study was published about the same time as the publication showing the traditional measure of antioxidant capacity was found to have little value.
In this study the researchers defined Mediterranean diet based on four criteria: 1. having increased fruits and vegetables 2. having olive oil as the main source of fat 3. having a low meat and dairy intake 4. having a moderate consumption of wine. Of course there are multiple Mediterranean diets that differ according to the specific location. However, these criteria do tend to be relatively common to all Mediterranean diets.
They divided their subjects into 3 categories according to a Mediterranean diet score that weighed the diet according to these criteria. They found that the higher the level of adherence to the Mediterranean diet, the better the blood inflammatory markers were. So the Mediterranean diet reduces inflammation. They speculated on the various traditional antioxidants present in the Mediterranean diet, but did not consider potassium and sodium.
They reported the average potassium content of the participants' diet. But they did not report the difference in potassium content of those adhering to the Mediterranean diet versus those not adhering. Also, they did not report on the sodium content of either diet.
The overall average of potassium intake was quite low. However, if they had examined the potassium and sodium content of those adhering to the Mediterranean diet versus those not adhering, they probably would have found a significant difference. The higher fruit and vegetable content of the Mediterranean diet would likely have resulted in a much higher potassium and lower sodium content.
This is one of the problems with these kinds of studies. As reported in this post, it has been more than 20 years since potassium was shown to be a strong antioxidant inside of cells. Other researchers have since confirmed the finding. Yet potassium intake is not examined in studies of inflammation or studies of antioxidants.
Antioxidant Value Is Of No Value
Other more popular antioxidants are studied because they have shown antioxidant qualities in the test tube. But the test tube antioxidant values (ORAC) have been shown to have no correlation with antioxidant activity in the body. See this post for a discussion about the lack of correlation. What matters is the antioxidant activity inside the cell, not the activity in the test tube.
The problem in Italy is similar to the problem throughout the world. As more and more people move into cities, their diet and lifestyle changes to an urban diet and lifestyle. The change in diet is one that consists of a diet much higher in sodium and lower in potassium. This results in the cells in our body being too imbalanced to eliminate excessive free radicals. This leads to more inflammation, and will lead to more hypertension and cardiovascular disease throughout the world.
Find Tables Of Potassium Content
However, by getting more high potassium foods, and less sodium, you can prevent the damage from a more Western diet. To find the potassium and sodium content of different foods you can click on the “Links To Food Potassium Tables” tab at the top of the page. From there find a link to a table with your food of interest to find its potassium and sodium content.
1. Mediterranean Diet Effect: an Italian picture. Azzini E, Polito A, Fumagalli A, Intorre F, Venneria E, Durazzo A, Zaccaria M, Ciarapica D, Foddai MS, Mauro B, Raguzzini A, Palomba L, Maiani G. Nutr J. 2011 Nov 16;10:125. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-10-125.