Studies Show Mediterranean Diet with Olive Oil Helps Protect Bones

It is hypothesized that the traditional Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits and vegetables with a high intake of olives and olive oil could be key to osteoporosis prevention.

mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet consists primarily of healthy fats, fruits and vegetables instead of the processed foods, trans fats and sugars found in the typical American diet.

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Over the years, several studies have shown that the incidence of osteoporosis in Europe is lower in the Mediterranean region. It is hypothesized that the traditional Mediterranean diet, rich in fruits and vegetables with a high intake of olives and olive oil could be one of the environmental factors underlying this difference. Recent research, expected to be published in the October 2012 issue of Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM), confirms the notion. When it comes to osteoporosis guidelines, olive oil just might be the new recommended superfood.

According to the study, going on a two-year Mediterranean diet incorporating olive oil can increase serum (blood) osteocalcin concentrations, which can result in protecting a person’s bones. Osteocalcin is a protein that binds calcium to bones. Doctors test blood osteocalcin levels as a marker for the bone turnover process. In other words, people who have bone diseases such as osteoporosis often have abnormal blood osteocalcin levels.

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The study participants were put in one of three groups, which either involved a low-fat diet, Mediterranean food consumption including mixed nuts, or a Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil. People who consumed the Mediterranean diet with virgin olive oil had higher concentrations of the bone formation marker osteocalcin, and there were no notable decreases in the levels of calcium in their blood.

Lead author of the study José Manuel Fernández-Real, MD, PhD from the Hospital Dr. Josep Trueta in Girona, Spain reported, “The intake of olive oil has been related to the prevention of osteoporosis in experimental and in vitro models. This is the first randomized study which demonstrates that olive oil preserves bone, at least as inferred by circulating bone markers, in humans.”[1]

What is a Mediterranean Diet?

Following the Mediterranean diet has not only been linked to healthy bones, but also lower rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer. Why? The Mediterranean diet consists primarily of healthy fats, fruits and vegetables instead of the processed foods, trans fats and sugars found in the typical American diet. If you’re looking to implement the Mediterranean diet for your family, follow these basic principles from countries such as Greece:

  • Make plant food the main focus of your meals. Try to eat at least five to six servings of vegetables per day and, when possible, buy locally-grown produce.
  • Increase your intake of beans and nuts. Add beans or nuts (almonds, walnuts) to main dishes, soups, salads; eat hummus; snack on nuts when you have cravings for salt or sweets, etc.
  • Use lots of spices—garlic, onions and fresh herbs such as oregano, basil and thyme.
  • Try to eat fish or seafood at least two to three times per week.
  • Eat chicken one time per week or less.
  • Limit consumption of red meat and dairy. The Mediterranean diet recommends no more than four servings of red meat per month and two servings of dairy per day. If you do eat dairy, choose yogurt as this contains healthy probiotic bacteria.
  • Eat high fiber grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, couscous, or polenta instead of refined carbs and “white” grains (white bread, white rice, etc.).
  • Eat fruits in place of sugary treats and desserts.
  • Use healthier fats including virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil.  Remember, the recent study revealed consuming virgin olive oil is the key to maintaining bone health.

While we all know that eating a diet high in healthy fats, fruits and vegetables is good for us, it is not always easy to do. The fact is that following a healthy diet can be a real struggle for many people. That’s why in our Comprehensive Guide, Osteoporosis Relief: Natural Remedies for Osteoporosis Prevention and Treatment, we give you tips to help your body actually prefer the Mediterranean cuisines over the processed, sugary foods in the American diet.  Our Guide teaches you how you can “exchange” these empty calorie foods for healthier options. By using an “exchange list”, you’ll learn how to actually prefer the healthier choices in your normal daily food intake. And, keep in mind—the reward of healthy Mediterranean eating will be well worth it!

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This article was originally published in 2012. It is regularly updated.

[1] José Manuel Fernández-Real, Mónica Bulló, José Maria Moreno-Navarrete, Wifredo Ricart, Emilio Ros, Ramon Estruch and Jordi Salas-Salvadó. “A
Mediterranean Diet Enriched with Olive Oil Is Associated with Higher Serum Total Osteocalcin Levels in Elderly Men at High Cardiovascular Risk.” Journal
of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, October 2012.

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