More people die from stroke and heart disease than any other cause in the industrialized world. If a drug could cut this risk by close to a third, we’d all be on it; but when it comes to a behavioral change, we lag behind.
The Mediterranean diet has now been shown to cut the risk of death from heart attacks and strokes by 30 percent. The study was so definitive that it was ended early out of ethical concerns that the control group was dying needlessly.
The study was published this month in The New England Journal of Medicine. Rachel Johnson, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association said that the results were “really impressive.”
The Mediterranean diet does not shun fat, but takes it from olive oil and nuts. Wine, especially red wine, is embraced in moderation with meals as the source of polyphenols. Fish, beans, fruits and vegetables, are favored over fowl and beef..
Because of the fat content, many doctors have been hesitant at recommending the diet to overweight patients, however low fat diets are notoriously hard to maintain.
In this study, conducted by Dr. Ramon Estruch, a professor of medicine at the University of Barcelona
and his colleagues, researchers made a random selection of 7,447 people in Spain who were overweight. As in any population many had risk factors for heart disease including smoking and diabetes. Participants were randomly assigned a low fat diet or a Mediterranean diet.
Most people did not lose any weight. Most participants were already taking some drugs for their high risk cardiovascular condition, usually statins for cholesterol, with some on medication for high blood pressure or diabetes. The results were independent of these factors. Although anecdotal evidence pointed to the fact that those around the Mediterranean Sea were at a lesser risk for heart attack and stroke the current study was the first that offered definitive proof of the diet's benefits
Let's look at specifics: Some participants assigned to the Mediterranean diet were given extra-virgin olive oil and were told to use at least 4 four tablespoons a day. Others were given an ounce of walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds to eat each day. Those on the diet had to eat at least 3 daily servings a day of fruits and a minimum of 2 of vegetables. Fish was mandated 3 times a week, along at least three weekly servings of with beans, rice or lentils. Here's the best news: participants had to commit to drinking at least one glass of wine a day with meals.
After five years, scientists tallied 109 heart attacks, strokes or deaths from heart disease in the group which did not eat the Mediterranean diet while there were 83 in the Mediterranean group that ate extra nuts, with 96 in the group adhering to the Mediterranean diet that ate extra olive oil. .
The debate over low fat and Mediterranean diet was played out between Dr. Dean Ornish, advocating a plant based, low fat diet, and Drs. Nick Perrione of Yale Medical School and Dr. Walter Willett, of Harvard Medical School in favor of a Mediterranean diet in the anti-aging video “Reverse Aging Now” (now on anti aging DVD). “Even the best available drugs, like statins, reduce heart disease by about 25 percent, which is in the same ballpark as the Mediterranean diet,” said Willett after the study, “but the statins increase the risk of diabetes, whereas this diet can help reduce the risk.”
What’s most striking about the diet is that it doesn’t involve any deprivation. Instead it relies on smart food choices. For anybody who wants to lose weight on this diet, the recipe for success is the same as it has always been: burn more calories than you consume. Increase your exercise and decrease the amount you eat.
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