Eating a Mediterranean diet may risk causing infertility due to the amount of toxins in the food compared to British meals, researchers have found.
A British diet has traditionally been viewed as less healthy than the food on offer in the Mediterranean, due to the higher presence of saturated fats from red meat and dairy, compared to the wide variety of fruit and vegetables, nuts and grains and fish.
However, a study by scientists at the University of Oslo has suggested that following a traditional, non-organic Mediterranean diet actually comes with added health risks.
The research team found that fruit, vegetables and whole grains farmed in the traditional way passed on more environmental contaminants, which could lead to fertility problems, a weakened immune system and stunted growth and development in young children.
Organic farming cuts pesticide intake by 90 per cent
When the ingredients of a Mediterranean diet are farmed organically, the chance of pesticide intake can be cut by around 90 per cent, the research suggested.
The study assessed 27 students who consumed the diet after eating "ordinary" British food for a week before the trial began, and then had to log everything they ate.
Scientists took a urine sample from each student before sending them to a farm in Crete for two weeks, where they were split into two groups with differing diets.
Of the group, 14 ate food that had been cultivated normally while the other 13 ate a diet composed of organic produce.
Professor Carlo Leifert, a microbiologist and visiting professor at the university who led the project, said several of the environmental contaminants they had found are known to affect hormones in the body.
He said: “There is growing evidence that such toxins can weaken our immune defence system and perhaps also our fertility.
“If hormones become imbalanced, they can also have a negative effect on the growth and development of children.
"Fruits, vegetables and whole grains cultivated in the conventional way are some of the main sources of environmental contaminants absorbed through our diet.
"Since a Mediterranean diet is based on such foods, those eating it had a ten times higher intake of these contaminants than if their diet had been based on foods cultivated organically.”
The study, published in the American Journal of Critical Nutrition, also found that the group regularly consuming a Mediterranean diet were shown to have three times the level of environmental contaminants in their urine compared to when they were eating their usual British diet.
A traditional British roast dinner
Human intake of environmental contaminants can come from items other than food, such as skin creams and the surrounding air used to breathe in.
The study did not consider such factors, although the research team say it is unlikely to have affected the results.
Despite the initial findings, the team of researchers said it is too early to start recommending against the Mediterranean diet and more research should be conducted.
Mediterranean diet ‘can combat effects of Covid’
Other medical professionals who still promote the benefits of a Mediterranean diet have even said it could help to combat the effects of Covid-19.
Dr Claire Bailey, a GP with a particular interest in immunity and the author of ‘Clever Gut’ and ‘Blood Sugar Diet’, said eating the low-carbohydrate diet enjoyed by people across Southern Europe could provide the much-needed antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients needed to fight infection.
The Mediterranean diet follows the traditional eating habits of people from countries bordering the Mediterranean sea, including France, Italy, Greece and Spain.
It usually features meals filled with vegetables, nuts, grains and unsaturated, natural fats like olive oil, and has historically been linked with good health, including a healthier heart.
Several famous celebrities have attributed their youthful skin and athletic frames to following a Mediterranean diet, including Selena Gomez, Penelope Cruz and Robert De Niro.