The “Heart”felt Power of the Mediterranean Diet

5 Mar

“Now along comes this group and does a gigantic study in Spain that says you can eat a nicely balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and olive oil and lower heart disease by 30 percent. And you can actually enjoy life.”                    – Dr. Steven Nissen, renowned cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic

 You may have heard “Mediterranean Diet” years ago, when it first hit the mainstream media touting its weight management and heart health properties. Now, the topic is back in the spotlight after a groundbreaking study blew us out of the water. We knew that Mediterranean Diet was low-glycemic in nature, bolstered by fruits, vegetables, beans, and a drizzle of healthful fats like olive oil. (And wine if you so choose…) What we didn’t have evidence of, was the effect that a well-balanced Mediterranean diet has on heart health, specifically. Of all the coverage, I think that the NY Times does a nice job of summarizing the study design and findings. The researchers out of the University of Barcelona in Spain did their homework by traveling the world to query experts about how the link between diet and heart disease risk. For the study itself, the researchers randomly assigned participants, who were at high risk for heart disease into three groups.  One group was given a low-fat diet and counseled on how to follow it. The other two groups were counseled to follow a Mediterranean diet. At first the Mediterranean dieters got more intense support. The NY Times reports that the “members of the low-fat group just got an initial visit to train them in how to adhere to the diet, followed by a leaflet each year on the diet. Then the researchers decided to add more intensive counseling for them, too, but they still had difficulty staying with the diet.” The results were so striking that the researchers decided to stop the study prior to its scheduled end date, as they felt that it was unethical to keep a group of people on a conventional “low-fat” diet. Overall, the research demonstrated that eating a plant-based Mediterranean diet with nuts or olive oil brings an almost 30 percent reduction in heart disease risk!26diet-articleInline-v5

One group assigned to a Mediterranean diet was given extra-virgin olive oil each week and was instructed to use at least 4 four Tablespoons per day. The other group got a combination of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts and was instructed to eat about an ounce (aka hefty handful) of the mix each day. It was gently reminded that participants stay away from cookies, candies, cakes, processed foods and limit intake of dairy and processed meats.

 In addition to these diet modifications, participants were asked to adhere to the following mainstays:

Mainstays of the Mediterranean Diet: At least three servings a day of fruits and at least two servings of vegetables per day. Participants were to eat fish at least three times a week and legumes, which include beans, peas and lentils, at least three times a week. They were to eat white meat instead of red, and, for those accustomed to drinking, to have at least seven glasses of wine a week with meals.

Isn’t this music to your ears? Beware, though, this isn’t a prescription to go out and eat a high fat diet! But, realize the power of healthful, satisfying fats in your diet. The bane of the low-fat diet is the constant search for satiety, or fullness and satisfaction from a meal. Hopefully, we’re moving past that, thanks to research like this!

To hear more about the merits of the Mediterranean diet, visit ABC News.

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4 Responses to “The “Heart”felt Power of the Mediterranean Diet”

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