Study Legitimizes Mediterranean Diet's Health Benefits

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Need a good reason to eat more fruits, vegetables, legumes and fish? Here’s one -- a new large study out of Spain adds credence to the idea that a Mediterranean diet can help prevent heart disease and stroke. This study is the first major clinical trial that assessed the effect of the Mediterranean diet on heart risks.

    Researchers in this study followed approximately 7,500 adults between the ages of 55 and 80 who did not have heart disease. However, these individuals were considered at risk for heart disease because of various factors, such as being overweight, smoking, having a family history of the disease, or having diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Many of the participants were already taking medications to control their cholesterol, blood pressure or diabetes and to lower their heart disease risk.

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    These participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups. One group was asked to eat a Mediterranean diet (which means lots of vegetables, fruit, fish and legumes) as well as at least four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil a day. The second group also ate a Mediterranean diet that was supplemented with a combined ounce of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts each day. These groups were asked to eat at least three servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables each day. In addition, they were asked to eat fish at least three times a week. They were also asked to eat legumes (beans, peas and lentils) at least three times a week. These groups also were asked to opt for white meat as opposed to red meat. Participants who enjoyed a drink were asked to drink at least seven glasses of wine a week with their meals. These groups were encouraged to avoid commercially made cookies, cakes and pastries. They also limited their intake of dairy products and processed meats. Both of these groups also received personalized advice as well as participated in group meetings. The third group was asked to lower their fat intake by eating lean meats and low-fat dairy products as well as fruits and vegetables. This group also received counseling.

    Researchers used regular urinalysis to measure levels of markers related to olive oil and nut consumption to assess how closely the participants in the two Mediterranean diet groups followed that eating plan. They found that the participants were able to stay with the eating plan of the Mediterranean diet; in comparison, the participants who were assigned to eat the low-fat diet were not able to follow the diet’s specifications and lower their fat intake by much. Therefore, this group’s diet looked more like the standard diet that included red meat, soft dirinks and commercially made cookies, cakes and pastries.

    During a five-year period, 288 study participants suffered a heart attack or stroke, or died from cardiovascular disease. However, researchers found that people who ate the Mediterranean diet were as much as 30 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than the participants who ate the general low-fat diet. Furthermore, the researchers found that the two groups that were assigned to eat the Mediterranean diet had fairly similar results. A total of 3.4 percent of the group that ate extra nuts and 3.8 percent of those that ate the extra olive oil had major cardiovascular problems. In comparison, 4.4 percent of the participants eating the general low-fat diet suffered a cardiovascular incident. The researchers found that most of the difference between the two groups that ate the Mediterranean diet and the low-fat diet involved lower stroke risk (rather than lower heart attack risk). And these results were so strong that the study ended early because researchers felt it would be unethical to continue the study.

  • Previous research into the role of Mediterreanean diet in reducing the risk of heart disease was considered weak. That is because most of these studies focused on people who lived in Mediterranean countries who had lower rates of heart disease. Experts questioned whether these lower rates were due to factors other than the diet that was being eaten.

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    This study pretty much has experts realizing how important this eating plan is for cardiovascular health. Therefore, use this study’s results to revamp your eating plan! Here’s to your health!

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Colliver, V. (2013). Mediterranean diet shown to aid heart health. Houston Chronicle.

    Estruch, R., et al. (2013). Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular events. The New England Journal of Medicine.

    Kolata, G. (2013). Mediterranean diet shown to ward off heart attack and stroke. New York Times.

    Pittman, G. (2013). Mediterranean diet can ward off heart disease: study. MedlinePlus.

Published On: February 26, 2013