Mediterranean diet
A new study suggests that following a Mediterranean-style diet might help delay brain shrinkage in humans as they age. Reuters

The Mediterranean diet has been proven to be a fairly wholesome option for health-conscious individuals, but can it actually reverse metabolic syndrome? The latest study, which was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, says that may be the case, but experts remain skeptical.

What Is The Mediterranean Diet?

The confusing thing about the diet is its fluidity. According to the Mayo Clinic, the focus of the Mediterranean diet is to get rid of salt and unhealthy fat from butter and replace them with herbs and olive oil. Other guiding principles include limiting red meat consumption to no more than a few times a month, eating fish and poultry at least twice a week, swapping out sweets for fruits and replacing everything lost with plenty of vegetables and nuts. Perhaps the best part is the inclusion of red wine (in moderation) as a key component of the diet, although that can definitely be optional if you're not a fan of adult grape juice.

You can see all of this in the Mediterranean Diet pyramid, which breaks down food into monthly, weekly and daily consumption habits. While what you eat is important, the foundation of the Mediterranean diet is daily physical activity, 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week.

Heart Attack, Stroke and Heart Disease

As previously discussed, the quality of research is incredibly important in determining if the study's claims can be trusted. A clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded, "Among persons at high cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events." That means the diet can prevent heart attacks, strokes and heart disease deaths for high-risk individuals. The results were so conclusive the trial ended early.

A study published in February 2014, led by researchers from Harvard School of Public Health and Cambridge Health Alliance, concluded the Mediterranean diet lowered the risk of heart disease among Midwestern firefighters as this population has a higher risk for cardiovascular disease.

Latest Research On Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions -- elevated cholesterol levels, excess body fat around the waist, high blood sugar levels and increased blood pressure -- occurring simultaneously that combine to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Considering the Mediterranean diet's success in previous studies, the latest research states that the diet, compared with a low-fat diet, reversed metabolic syndrome in patients who already had the four conditions.

The researchers focused on two types of Mediterranean diets, one using olive oil and another using nuts, over the course of five years. While the diet seemed beneficial for the individuals already with metabolic syndrome, it was not better than a low-fat diet at preventing the condition, notes Forbes contributor Alice Walton.

"The press release title may just as easily have read, 'A version of the Mediterranean diet with olive oil or nuts may not prevent metabolic syndrome compared to a low-fat diet,'" said Andrew Brown, researcher at the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, to Walton. For Brown, it boils down to moderation and physical activity and not a "magic bullet."