There has been a lot of interest in what is called the Mediterranean Diet. The right combination of typical foods from the region results in much lower incidents of deaths from heart attacks, strokes and heart disease. The so-called Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, as well as red wine.
A study, published on The New England Journal of Medicine, has demonstrated that around 30% of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet. The findings were based on the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks. The extent of the diet’s benefits shocked the researchers. They stopped the study earlier than they had scheduled, because after only five years the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.
The change in diet benefitted those on it even though they did not lose weight and most of them were already taking statins, or blood pressure or diabetes drugs to lower their heart disease risk.
Most striking was that the researchers did not consider risk factors such as cholesterol, hypertension or weight issues. They focused on heart attacks, strokes and the resulting deaths. In the end, that was what was most important.
Prior to this recent study, most of the evidence that the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of heart disease was light, largely based on studies that showed people from Mediterranean countries apparently having lower rates of heart disease. This could have been attributed to factors other than diet. Some researchers had been skeptical that the effect of diet could be detected, if it existed at all, because so many people are already taking powerful drugs to reduce heart disease risk, while other experts hesitated to recommend the diet to people who already had weight problems, since oils and nuts are loaded with calories.
Experts in heart disease said the study was a major victory because it demonstrated that one’s diet was a powerful factor in reducing heart disease risk. The scientists randomly assigned 7,447 people in Spain who were overweight, were smokers, or had diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease to follow the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat one.
Low-fat diets however, have not been shown in any clear way to be helpful, and they are also difficult for patients to maintain. So it is exciting that this major study shows that you can eat a nicely balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and olive oil and not only lower your risk of heart disease, but actually enjoy life.
One research group assigned to a Mediterranean diet study was given extra-virgin olive oil each week and was instructed to use at least 4 four tablespoons a day. The other group got a combination of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts and was instructed to eat about an ounce of the mix each day. An ounce of walnuts is about a quarter cup — a generous handful. The mainstays of the diet consisted of at least three servings a day of fruits and at least two servings of vegetables. Participants were instructed to consume 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.
Study subjects were encouraged to avoid commercially-made cookies, cakes and pastries, which can be full of saturated fats, and to limit their consumption of dairy products and processed meats.
In order to properly assess subjects’ compliance with the Mediterranean diet, researchers measured levels of a marker in urine of olive oil consumption — hydroxytyrosol — and a blood marker of nut consumption — alpha-linolenic acid.
Researchers were happy to report that the participants stayed with the prescribed diet. However, those assigned to a low-fat diet did not significantly lower their fat intake. Therefore, the researchers ended up comparing the usual modern diet, with its regular consumption of red meat, sodas and commercial baked goods, with a diet that steered away from those things.
The scientists believed the effect of the Mediterranean diet was due to the entire scenario, not just the olive oil, wine or nuts. They did not expect, however, to see such an impressive effect so early in the study.
They were careful to state in their paper that while the diet clearly reduced heart disease for those at high risk, further research was necessary to establish its benefits for people at low risk. The doctors expected that it would also help people at both high and low risk, and suggested that the best way to use it for protection would be to begin these habits in childhood.
As for the researchers, they have modified their own diets and are following a Mediterranean one, after seeing the benefits.
Current research demonstrates other ways to help your heart. Omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent and reduce plaque formation inside arteries, lower harmful cholesterol (LDL) and triglyceride levels, enhance the protective effects of cholesterol (HDL), decrease inflammation, and lessen the likelihood of forming a clot. Omega-3’s are superior to Omega-6 and Omega-9’s because they feed the anti-inflammatory cascade, where as the others can actually contribute to inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in wild Alaskan salmon, grass-fed beef, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, fish oil and cod liver oil.
One way to keep your Omegas in balance is to take one supplement a day. We recommend our Omega 3-6-9 Complete™ (click here to view) . This is a comprehensive blend of Fish Oil, Borage Oil, and Organic Flax Seed Oil. This combination provides a unique balance of Omega-3 and Omega 6, plus Omega-9 and Vitamin E.
Another good way to help maintain a healthy heart is with our Healthy Heart Essentials™ (click here to view).This easy to take supplement contains Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant which provides many benefits.