A new study suggests that following a Mediterranean diet — an eating pattern high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oils, fish and poultry — may protect people from some of the health effects of air pollution.
Researchers at NYU School of Medicine, which looked at data collected from nearly 550,000 people with an average age of 62 from around the United States for more than 17 years, grouped people based on how closely their eating mirrored the Mediterranean diet and linked them to estimates of their long term exposure to air pollution, including particulate matter (PM2.5), nitrous oxide (NO2) and ozone (O3).
“Air pollution is hypothesized to cause bad health effects through oxidative stress and inflammation, and the Mediterranean diet is really rich in foods that are anti-inflammatory and have antioxidants that might intervene through those avenues,” says study author Chris Lim, a doctoral student at the NYU School of Medicine who presented the findings at the recent American Thoracic Society 2018 International Conference in San Diego.
It’s still too early to know for sure whether a person’s diet can provide actual protection against air pollution, but eating a diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables will always be solid nutrition advice. Lim says the takeaway from his findings is simple: “eat your veggies.” But should future research confirm the findings, Lim says countries may want to consider developing dietary guidelines in conjunction with air quality standards to improve population health.