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Mar 06, 2013

Mediterranean Diet Lowers Cardiovascular Risk

According to a recent study, the Mediterranean diet, which is full of healthy fats, lowered the risk of heart attack, stroke and death by about 30% among middle-aged adults.

There’s plenty of debate about what type of foods we should eat to promote better health. From low carb to low fat or even raw food diets, it can be confusing to know if we’re making the right choices. But when it comes down to it, research continues to show that the Mediterranean diet, inspired by dietary patterns of southern Italy, Greece and Spain, is our best bet in reducing risk for heart disease.

In a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers assigned nearly 7,500 middle-aged adults at high risk for heart disease to one of three diets: a Mediterranean diet with plenty of extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts, and a traditional low-fat diet. The Mediterranean diet is characterized by a high intake of olive oil, fruit, vegetables, and nuts, a moderate intake of fish and poultry, a low intake of dairy products, red and processed meats, and sweets, and of course—wine in moderation. Subjects assigned to the Mediterranean diet followed these guidelines and were actually sent either olive oil or nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds) each week at no cost, to help ensure that they stuck to their assigned diets. After following these adults for nearly five years, researchers found that participants on the Mediterranean diets had about 30% lower risk of heart attack, stroke and death compared to those on the low-fat diet. In fact, the Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil lowered cardiovascular risk slightly more than the same diet supplemented with nuts.

These results confirm what many other studies have also found: the Mediterranean diet can reduce risk for heart disease, especially in high-risk patients. Unfortunately for us, however, the Mediterranean diet is much more common in Europe than it is in the United States. Most Americans tend to stick with the low-fat diet to promote health, which discourages against using any oils and eating nuts and fatty fish. But we’re quickly learning that it may be more important to choose “healthier” fats rather than avoiding fats altogether, especially when it comes to heart health. So next time you’re grocery shopping or cooking a meal, think about choosing foods that are rich in healthy fats, like polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats, rather than simply choosing low-fat foods.

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why does the Mediterranean diet reduce risk for heart disease?
  • The Mediterranean diet differs from traditional low-fat diets because it does not discourage consumption of fats altogether. Instead, the Mediterranean diet is full of “healthy” fats, like those found in fish, olive oil and nuts, which have been shown to have many heart-healthy benefits.

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