Public Health Nutrition

Research Paper

Importance of functional foods in the Mediterranean diet

RM Ortegaa1 c1

a1 Departamento de Nutrición, Facultad de Farmacia, Universidad Complutense, 28040-Madrid, (Spain)

Abstract

Objective Analyse the importance of components of Mediterranean diet in functional feeding.

Design We have based the study in a bibliographic review.

Results Many of the characteristic components of the traditional Mediterranean diet (MD) are known to have positive effects on health, capacity and well-being, and can be used to design functional foods. Vegetables, fruits and nuts are all rich in phenols, flavonoids, isoflavonoids, phytosterols and phytic acid—essential bioactive compounds providing health benefits. The polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish effectively regulate haemostatic factors, protect against cardiac arrhythmias, cancer and hypertension, and play a vital role in the maintenance of neural functions and the prevention of certain psychiatric disorders. Accumulating evidence suggests that olive oil, an integral component of the MD, may have health benefits, including the reduction of the risk of coronary heart disease, the prevention of several types of cancer and the modification of the immune and inflammatory responses. Olive oil is known for its high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids and is a good source of phytochemicals, such as polyphenolic compounds, squalene and α-tocopherol.

In the context of the MD, the benefits associated with the consumption of several functional components may be intensified by certain forms of food preparation. In addition, the practice of more physical activity (once common among Mediterranean populations) and the following of other healthy lifestyle habits may have additive effects.

Conclusions The identification of the active constituents of the MD is crucial in the formulation of appropriate dietary guidelines. Research into the pharmacological properties of the minor components of this diet (vitamins, sterols, polyphenols, etc.) is very active and could lead to the formulation of functional foods and nutraceuticals.

(Received April 18 2006)

(Accepted November 26 2006)

Correspondence

c1 *Corresponding author: Email rortega@farm.ucm.es

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