Mediterranean Diet Benefits Link to Heart Health

While the Mediterranean diet has become a popular choice for those who are looking to be healthier, many insist that it is not just a diet, but a way of life.  Based on traditional cuisine of the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, this eating plan emphasizes good tasting food, enjoying mealtime with family and friends, healthy fats from foods like avocados and olive oil, and even an occasional glass of wine.  Mediterranean foods are said to provide a number of health benefits with new research pointing to the cardiovascular system.

A recent study shows that following a Mediterranean-style diet can reduce chances for major cardiovascular problems.  Roughly 7,500 individuals in Spain – ages 55 to 80 - participated in the study, with just over half being female.  While the participants were free of heart disease when the study began, all were at high risk due to preexisting health problems like diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and excess body weight. 

The individuals were divided into one of three groups.  One group followed a Mediterranean diet accompanied by four tablespoons per day of extra-virgin olive oil, a second group followed a Mediterranean diet accompanied by a daily fistful of walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds, and the third group followed a low-fat diet. 

Because the subjects were not made to follow strict menus or to track weight loss, most found the diet easy to stay with.  In fact, only roughly 7% left the study within a two year period, with twice as many low-fat subjects dropping out as Mediterranean-style subjects.

The participants were carefully monitored, and after five years the study was concluded early because the findings were so obvious that it was deemed unethical to continue.  It was found that members of the first two groups experienced a 30 percent lower risk for key cardiovascular problems than members of the low-fat group. 

Published on the website of the New England Journal of Medicine, the findings are “really impressive,” said Rachel Johnson, a nutrition professor at the University of Vermont and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association.  Johnson applauded the use of lab tests to verify consumption of oil and nuts and the method of tracking actual heart attacks and strokes in lieu of merely tracking changes in risk factors, and determined that these procedures made the study very strong.  "At the end of the day, what we care about is whether or not disease develops," she stated. 

One important note about the study is that the nuts and olive oil were provided by nut and olive oil producers in Spain and California.  These are items that can be relatively expensive in the grocery store, yet it is hard to put a price on better health. 

While the health services branch of the Spanish government financed the study, many of the researchers have ties to the food and wine industry.  However, the food and wine sponsors had no role whatsoever in the study design, the examination of the findings or in the reporting of them.

Sources:
http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/newsplus/study-finds-mediterranean-diet-reduces-heart-disease-risk/

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