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It’s true: the Mediterranean diet prevents heart disease

Usually as soon as we hear some newscaster or infomercial loudmouth on TV utter the words “A new study shows,” we change the channel before we even hear what it is. But this one’s different. A new study shows in a most convincing way something that until now had been known in an intuitive, anecdotal sort of way: the Mediterranean diet reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke.

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The Mediterranean diet is defined as one that’s high in olive oil, fruit, nuts, and vegetables; moderate in fish and poultry; low in dairy and meat, with moderate consumption of wine at meals.

Eat all you want, but make sure there’s plenty of  fresh fruit and veggies, not too much red meat or dairy, a little fish, and lots and lots of olive oil. Nuts too, for extra good measure. And you can drink wine with meals, just don’t overdo it.

Really, what’s not to love about a diet like that?

This latest study, which lasted for about five years, has all the prestige and authority of the august New England Journal of Medicine behind it. It is not the work of some crackpot, self-ordained high priest of nutrition. It’s not faddish, and it has no agenda to promote. The study was initiated and paid for by the health ministry of the Spanish government.

The researchers, almost all of whom are M.D., Ph.D., simply wanted to know if the traditional Mediterranean diet—defined as “a diet characterized by a high intake of olive oil, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and wine in moderation consumed with meals”—really was efficacious in preventing heart disease and stroke.

To find out, they enrolled Spanish men aged 55–80 and women aged 60–80, who had no cardiovascular disease, but who did have either Type 2 Diabetes, or at least three of the major risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease: smoking, hypertension, high levels of low-density lipoprotein (bad) cholesterol, low levels of high-density (good) cholesterol, overweight or obesity, and a family history of premature coronary disease.

Absolute reduction of cardiovascular events

Altogether, they assigned about 7,500 participants to three different groups: a control diet group, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra olive oil, and a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts. The control group’s diet was designed to be low in fat but similar in many ways to the Mediterranean diet, with fruits, vegetables, fish, but without the extra oil and nuts. They could eat as much bread, pasta, potatoes and rice as they wanted, but not much in the way of baked goods and red meat.

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Olive oil is a key ingredient of the Mediterranean diet.

The participants were given instructions and monitored throughout the course of the study. Monitoring included tests to confirm that the people on the Mediterranean diets were in fact consuming the recommended quantities of olive oil and nuts. So effective was the Mediterranean diet in preventing heart attacks that the study was called off early by independent monitors so that the control group could be advised to follow the Mediterranean diet as well.

What they found was that the “energy unrestricted” (there were no restrictions on caloric intake) Mediterranean diet with extra olive oil resulted in “an absolute reduction” of major cardiovascular events. The reduction was “approximately” 30 per cent. Remember that the participants were selected because of their high risk, but had no cardiovascular disease at the outset of the study. The risk of stroke was also reduced “significantly” in both the Mediterranean diet groups. And those following the Mediterranean diet had less trouble sticking to it than did those on the low-fat control diet.

The conclusion, expressed in typically cautious scientific language, is that “a causal role of the Mediterranean diet in cardiovascular prevention has a high biologic plausibility.”

Put more explicitly, the researchers conclude, “an energy-unrestricted Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts, resulted in a substantial reduction in the risk of major cardiovascular events among high-risk persons. The results support the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease.”

 

 

Disclaimer: Condo.ca does not recommend or give advice. Presented for information purposes only.

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