The Mediterranean diet is a proven healthy eating pattern, contributing to a balanced diet and simultaneously it strengthens the immune system and health of the body. Τhis also applies to younger ages. The Mediterranean diet is a diet plan that is proposed in childhood, contributing both to better weight control and better health of children. Several studies have been conducted examining the effect of the Mediterranean diet on weight and health status of children at early age.
However, research in children in Italy showed that only 5 % of children had strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet. 62.2 % had a moderate compliance, while 32.8 % had poor. This low percentage of children following the Mediterranean diet was due to the low consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, dairy products, but also because of the high intake of commercial products for breakfast and dessert.
Some of the factors that seemed to affect the compliance to the Mediterranean diet in childhood according to the survey, were: if the children ate at school, if they ate breakfast with the rest of the family, if they had free access to food, the availability of fruits vegetables and legumes in the house, if they liked vegetables, education level of mother, the time spent in front of a screen (screen time) and population size of place of residence .
Another study in eight European countries also led to the conclusion that younger populations in the Mediterranean have already taken the wrong path forgetting the habits of the traditional Mediterranean diet and adopting more strongly habits of western countries. Therefore, despite the fact that the Mediterranean diet is inversely associated with childhood obesity, unfortunately, it is often not respected by children living in the Mediterranean region.
However, there are promising results from studies in children residing in Crete. Most of them seemed to have moderate to high compliance to the Mediterranean diet. The most important finding is that this regular and frequent consumption, consistent to the plan set by the Mediterranean diet, may have a beneficial effect against symptoms of wheezing, rhinitis , asthma and atopy. Such findings have also resulted from earlier studies for the positive effect of citrus, apple and tomato, against asthma and allergic rhinitis.
This study showed that children in Crete consume large quantities of locally produced fruit and vegetables. Specifically it was found for the first time that extracts from the skins of red grapes contain a rich mixture of polyphenols, which possibly through their antioxidant action, make grapes important against rhinitis and asthma .
Moreover, the increased consumption of nuts also had a positive effect against symptoms. Nuts are a very rich source of vitamin E, known for its antioxidant properties. They are also very rich in magnesium, which has been found to have a protective effect against asthma and pulmonary function .
In contrast, the consumption of margarine appears to act positively to onset of symptoms. Specifically when margarine is consumed on a weekly basis, it aggravates the symptoms of asthma and allergic rhinitis.
It is noteworthy that similar results have emerged for the protective effect of the Mediterranean diet against wheeze and atopy in children, when mother had a strict adherence to the Mediterranean diet during pregnancy.
Specifically, it was found that the concentration of selenium and iron in the umbilical cord is negatively associated with wheeze and eczema in childhood. This has also been proved for the intake of vitamin E from mothers during pregnancy. Other studies have found a positive effect on allergy when there was increased consumption of apples and fish during pregnancy. Therefore it is indicated, that when the mother has a great compliance to Mediterranean diet during pregnancy, exposes the fetus to a number of antioxidants . These in turn offer their protective action in the lung function. Such antioxidants can be found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, food groups that are defined by the Mediterranean diet.
Allergic diseases often occur within the first month of neonatal life. The processes that lead to allergic reactions may begin early in the development of the fetal immune. This means that the mother’s diet during pregnancy may be more important than diet in early childhood. All the essential nutrients taken from mother’s food consumption are transferred through the placenta to the fetus, strengthening the immune system of the fetus. Therefore, the study concluded that mother’s adherence to the Mediterranean diet was more important for the protection against allergies, wheezing and atopy than diet in childhood.
The results of these recent studies are actually very optimistic and pave the way for further study on the effect of the Mediterranean diet on childrens’ weight and health.
Given our present data, Mediterranean diet should be supported as part of obesity prevention strategies in the European Union. This will also benefit childrens’ health. Certainly it is equally important to improve the eating habits and nutritional knowledge of the whole family, in order to help children adopt a healthy eating pattern that is consistent with the plan of the Mediterranean diet.
1. Roccaldo R1, Censi L, D’Addezio L, Toti E, Martone D, D’Addesa D, Cernigliaro A; the ZOOM8 Study group. Adherence to the Mediterranean diet in Italian school children (The ZOOM8 Study). Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2014 Feb 17. [Epub ahead of print]
2. Tognon G1, Hebestreit A2, Lanfer A2, Moreno LA3, Pala V4, Siani A5, Tornaritis M6, De Henauw S7, Veidebaum T8, Molnár D9, Ahrens W10, Lissner L11. Mediterranean diet, overweight and body composition in children from eight European countries: cross-sectional and prospective results from the IDEFICS study. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2014 Feb;24(2):205-13. doi: 10.1016/j.numecd.2013.04.013. Epub 2013 Jul 17.
3Chatzi L1, Torrent M, Romieu I, Garcia-Esteban R, Ferrer C, Vioque J, Kogevinas M, Sunyer J .Mediterranean diet in pregnancy is protective for wheeze and atopy in childhood. Thorax. 2008 Jun;63(6):507-13. doi: 10.1136/thx.2007.081745. Epub 2008 Jan 15.
4. Chatzi L1, Apostolaki G, Bibakis I, Skypala I, Bibaki-Liakou V, Tzanakis N, Kogevinas M, Cullinan P. Protective effect of fruits, vegetables and the Mediterranean diet on asthma and allergies among children in Crete. Thorax. 2007 Aug;62(8):677-83. Epub 2007 Apr 5.