Just as the Mediterranean diet is gaining momentum around the world as a model for prevention of heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other health problems, a recent study finds that most Spanish university students are moving away from it.
The study, published in the journal “Appetite,” surveyed the dietary habits of 160 women and 124 men enrolled in the Albacete campus of the University of Castilla-La Mancha in Spain.
The 284 students, whose average age was 21 years, were volunteer participants of the study and provided dietary information for two nonconsecutive days using the 24-hour dietary recall method. Researchers used the Mediterranean Diet Score and Healthy Eating Index to assess the quality of the diets consumed by the subjects.
Based on the Mediterranean diet scoring system, the authors of study found that only 5.3 percent, or 15 students, had a high adherence to the Mediterranean diet.
Unlike the traditional Mediterranean diet that is high in vegetables, fruit, beans, whole grains, whole grains, nuts, olives and olive oil, some fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, yogurt and wine, most of the subjects consumed a diet rich in meat and dairy but low in fruits and vegetables. Their intake of protein, carbohydrates, saturated fats and cholesterol was higher, while intake of fiber was lower than recommended amounts.
The subjects scored worse on their Healthy Eating Index – with only 3.9 percent obtaining scores that fell within the “good” range, indicating that 96.1 percent of the student population studied need to improve the quality of their diet.
Although the body mass index (BMI) of the subjects fell within the normal range, the high intake of meat, sugar, and saturated fat, combined with low physical activity reported by 70 percent of the student population studied, may put them at risk of developing insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Unfortunately, the trend of deviating from the traditional Mediterranean diet is not limited to young adults of Spain and, in fact, may be starting at a younger age. A recent study conducted on 565 Italian adolescents aged 12 to 19 years found that only 14 percent had scores that indicated a high adherence to the Mediterranean diet. Those with a high adherence also had a higher intake of most major nutrients such as fiber, iron, monounsaturated fats and Vitamins A, D, C, B6, and folic acid.