Vatican Conference Examines a Renaissance of the Mediterranean Diet in the 21st Century

Experts met on February 14 at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican City to launch a debate on food values and the role and significance of the Mediterranean diet.

Feb. 20, 2017
By Ylenia Granitto

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Speakers and guests from a broad range of back­grounds includ­ing the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity, the media, pol­i­tics, and edu­ca­tion met on February 14 at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican City to launch a debate and dis­cuss Food Values’ in the con­text of the cur­rent role and sig­nif­i­cance of the Mediterranean diet.

See Also: Food Values’ Conference Program

The tra­di­tional Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) and lifestyle is now con­sid­ered to be one of the most health­ful pat­terns of eat­ing and liv­ing. Nevertheless, chronic ill­ness and obe­sity are grow­ing in soci­eties where the cost and per­ceived value of food are falling with increased avail­abil­ity and industrialization. 

The value of her­itage diets such as the MedDiet is finally becom­ing under­stood, and in this renais­sance lays the oppor­tu­nity to reawaken people’s rela­tion­ship with what they eat, in the envi­ron­ment in which they live, and improve their health, as expressed in the intro­duc­tion by Paolo Pasquali and Monsignor Marcelo Sànchez Sorondo, who pointed out how the adher­ence to the Mediterranean diet strength­ens the ben­e­fi­cial link between food qual­ity, cul­tural tra­di­tions, health, well­be­ing, and sustainability. 

In fact, dietary pat­terns at the level of pop­u­la­tions have a major impact on every aspect of plan­e­tary health as well, from cli­mate to bio­di­ver­sity, said the pres­i­dent of The True Health Initiative David L. Katz. The case will be made that we can love food that loves our health and the planet back.”

Among the most recent research, an umbrella review’ con­ducted by Francesco Sofi from University of Florence and Careggi University Hospital, esti­mated the ben­e­fi­cial asso­ci­a­tion between MedDiet and 34 dif­fer­ent health out­comes, based on 12 meta-analy­ses of obser­va­tional stud­ies and 14 meta-analy­ses of RCTs (Randomized Controlled Trials), for a total pop­u­la­tion of over than 12,700,000 sub­jects. Results showed that MedDiet had an impact on chronic dis­eases and over­all mor­tal­ity,” Sofi affirmed. 

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Furthermore, meta-analy­ses of RCTs demon­strated that sub­jects allo­cated to a MedDiet had, as com­pared with sub­jects fol­low­ing a con­trol diet, bet­ter anthro­po­met­ri­cal, meta­bolic and inflam­ma­tory risk parameters.”

In this sense, polyphe­nols and omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to exert anti-inflam­ma­tory actions, via mul­ti­ple mech­a­nisms of actions, as shown by Francesco Visioli from the Department of Molecular Medicine of the University of Padova. He high­lighted the ben­e­fi­cial activ­ity of micronu­tri­ents such as vit­a­mins, min­er­als, polyphe­nols and essen­tial fatty acids con­tained in extra vir­gin olive oil, which is not lim­ited to their antiox­i­dant activ­ity, but is also linked to a vari­ety of mech­a­nisms, often interrelated. 

Stefano Benedettelli, from the Department of Agrifood Production and Environmental Sciences of the University of Florence, drew atten­tion to ancient wheat species, which present a health­ier and a bet­ter nutri­tional pro­file than mod­ern wheat, by pro­vid­ing more vit­a­mins, min­er­als and nutraceu­ti­cal com­pounds, and organic cultivation. 

The MedDiet encour­ages sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture, con­tributes to pro­mot­ing local pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion, and safe­guards land­scapes as an out­stand­ing resource of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment,” said Antonia Trichopoulou, from the Hellenic Health Foundation and WHO Collaborating Centre for Nutrition and Health of Athens Medical School. The MedDiet has been acknowl­edged by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as an exam­ple of a sus­tain­able diet in which nutri­tion, bio­di­ver­sity, local food pro­duc­tion and local cul­ture are closely interconnected. 

With regards to food tra­di­tion and cul­tural her­itage, the chef and owner of Locanda Locatelli in London, Giorgio Locatelli, evi­denced the value of the con­vivi­al­ity of food and the ben­e­fits which this has on well­be­ing. The Med diet is not solely about the food and the envi­ron­ment, but also the cir­cum­stances and sur­round­ings in which food is eaten. Our well-being can be influ­enced by how’ we eat,” he pointed out, high­light­ing the feel-good fac­tor’ of this dietary pattern. 

Then, the Menus of Change ini­tia­tive, was pre­sented by Greg Drescher, the vice pres­i­dent of Strategic Initiatives and Industry Leadership at The Culinary Institute of America. It was designed to inte­grate the sci­en­tific evi­dence around opti­mally healthy food choices and envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity, together with culi­nary and busi­ness insight. 

The pro­fes­sor and sen­sory sci­en­tist at the University of Davis, California, Jean-Xavier Guinard, pro­posed sen­sory strate­gies for dietary changes with the Healthy Flavors Research Initiative. Made in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Culinary Institute of America and UC Davis Dining Services, sen­sory test­ing and culi­nary strate­gies have been devel­oped for health­ier recipes with uncom­pro­mised sen­sory appeal. 

The vast, global con­sen­sus among experts in dif­fer­ent fields about the fun­da­men­tals of diet that favor both human and plan­e­tary well-being was evi­denced by Sara Baer-Sinnott, the pres­i­dent of Oldways, an orga­ni­za­tion that aims to improve pub­lic health through the pro­mo­tion of cul­tural food tra­di­tions and lifestyles. As we learn that the top con­sumer trends for 2017 are authen­tic­ity and healthy liv­ing, there is the great poten­tial to make a dif­fer­ence through a renais­sance of the MedDiet in com­ing years.” 

In order to make it pos­si­ble, there is an urgent need for a new approach, espe­cially in regard to food and nutri­tion edu­ca­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, accord­ing to Daniele Del Rio, of the Department of Food & Drug of the University of Parma and the NNEdPro Global Centre for Nutrition and Health, St John’s Innovation Centre of Cambridge. 

Basic and applied research in food and nutri­tion should be sub­jected to more rig­or­ous qual­ity con­trol, as is the case in med­ical and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal research, Del Rio said. More invest­ment in evi­dence-informed food and nutri­tion edu­ca­tion are needed, pro­vid­ing high-qual­ity food and nutri­tion knowl­edge and skills, and pri­or­i­tiz­ing chil­dren. And much bet­ter care in com­mu­ni­cat­ing nutri­tional rec­om­men­da­tions, as well as knowl­edge trans­la­tion based on new dis­cov­er­ies and break­ing evi­dence, is a fun­da­men­tal step to make the pop­u­la­tion more aware of the incred­i­ble impact of their dietary choices on their per­sonal health. 

The trans­for­ma­tion of food sys­tems is emerg­ing as a sig­nif­i­cant solu­tion space that is unique in its capac­ity to moti­vate change from the indi­vid­ual, to the global level,” pointed out Fabrice DeClerck, sci­ence direc­tor at the EAT Foundation and the Stockholm Resilience Center and senior sci­en­tist at the Bioversity International of Rome. Global sus­tain­able devel­op­ment is achiev­able through food and this trans­for­ma­tion will only be achieved through a sys­temic, whole-of-soci­ety depar­ture from busi­ness-as-usual to an inno­v­a­tive and coor­di­nated action around the way food is pro­duced and con­sumed. This trans­for­ma­tion, while chal­leng­ing, is pos­si­ble,” he added. 

There is a need for a more enlight­ened view of the poten­tial dam­age aris­ing from mod­ern meth­ods of food pro­cess­ing and a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the ben­e­fits of plac­ing a greater value on what and how we eat,” the physi­cians and author, Simon Poole affirmed. 

Those of us priv­i­leged to have some under­stand­ing of the urgent need for a new par­a­digm on mat­ters of nutri­tion and lifestyle have a duty to dis­sem­i­nate this message.” 

Poole con­sid­ered that much can be learned from the way in which cli­mate change has become a polit­i­cal imper­a­tive hith­erto due to pres­sure from the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity and the prop­a­ga­tion of the need for change. A renais­sance in the value we place on food is urgently needed to reverse what is a grow­ing health cri­sis in many parts of the world,” he concluded.



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