Mediterranean Diet Fights Heart Disease

By Pierre Dumont email: , Feb 25, 2013 01:26 PM EST

Eating a Mediterranean diet lowers the risk of heart disease, a new study finds.

The study, led by Dr. Ramón Estruch and researchers from the Department of Internal Medicine at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, indicates that those who consume a Mediterranean diet with a large amount of extra-virgin olive oil have the lowest rate of heart problems and heart disease deaths. Coming in second are those who consume a Mediterranean diet high in nuts. Those following the diet heavy in extra-virgin olive oil demonstrated a 30-percent-less chance of having a heart attack compared to those on a low-fat diet, while those who followed the diet high in nuts demonstrated a 28-percent-lower chance.

As part of the study, the researchers tracked around 7,500 participants for five years. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the results for one group were so surprising that the researchers stopped the study early.

"We think the strength of this study comes from the fact that we measure hard outcomes and not just blood pressure or changes in cholesterol levels," Estruch says. "We really believe the Mediterranean diet lowers incidence of [heart attack], stroke and cardiovascular deaths."

Those who participated in the study replaced red meat with white meat and ate three or more servings of fish per week. They also agreed to eat three or more servings of fruit and two or more servings of vegetables each day. Extra-virgin olive oil contains polyphenols and vitamin-E tocopherols that can lessen inflammatory buildup to heart disease.  It also has oleic acids, which have less saturated fat that potentially builds in blood vessels. For the nut group, participants were asked to eat 30 g of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts each day. The low-fat diet group consumed less olive oil but ate the same amount of fish, fruits and vegetables as the Mediterranean groups.

Researchers did point out that it is not clear how generally the benefits of the study apply, since the tested group came from a Mediterranean region and were already considered to be at a high risk for heart problems. That said, the team of researchers feels the results of the study cannot be ignored.

"We have all learned," Estruch says.

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