The diet – which consists of lots of fruits, nuts and olive oil, a moderate amount of fish, poultry and red wine and very little red meat, dairy, processed meats and sweets – has been considered a ticket to good health for some time, but evidence supporting its value has generally come from reduced rates of heart disease among those living in the Mediterranean region.
But the argument for the benefits of the Mediterranean diet has received a big boost this week from a study showing that people who ate either olive oil or nuts had a reduced risk of cardiac problems including stroke, heart attack and death.
Researchers tracked 7,447 patients, all of whom were considered at risk for heart disease before the study began. Participants were divided into three groups, two of which ate a food central to the Mediterranean diet. One was given 30 grams of nuts a day, while the other was given a liter of olive oil a week. The third group was instructed to follow a typical Western low-fat diet.
After tracking patients for an average of five years each, scientists found that those who were consuming either the nuts or the olive oil had about a 30 percent lower chance of experiencing a negative cardiac outcome than those instructed in a low-fat diet. At the same time, the study shows the success of the Mediterranean diet in reducing heart disease, it also suggests that a low-fat diet may have little effect on cardiac health.
This, say the authors, is good news, since adding Mediterranean foods into a diet is easier than cutting out fats.
“These results support the benefits of the Mediterranean diet for cardiovascular risk reduction,” write the authors. “They are particularly relevant given the challenges of achieving and maintaining weight loss.”
While scientists are still unsure of why these foods seem to reduce the risk of heart disease, they offer a possible explanation:
“Perhaps there is a synergy among the nutrient-rich foods included in the Mediterranean diet that fosters favorable changes in intermediate pathways of cardiometabolic risk.”
The authors note that the study applied only to people already at risk for heart disease, and should not be seen as evidence that such a diet would have the same effect on health individuals.
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