It seems you can't open a magazine these days without running across an article that tells you to "eat this, not that." And while I think it's very important for us to make healthy food choices, new research is showing that the "eat this" portion of the equation may be far more important than the "not that" portion. In other words, eating healthy food is likely to benefit us far more than eating unhealthy food is going to hurt us.
Research published earlier this year in the European Heart Journal had some very interesting findings when it comes to the Mediterranean diet, the traditional "Western" diet, and heart disease risk. This study evaluated data from over 15,000 people with stable coronary artery disease. The participants, who were age 67 on average, filled out a lifestyle questionnaire that asked about the number of servings of a variety of foods they consumed each week. The categories included meat, fish, dairy, whole grains, refined grains, vegetables (potatoes didn't count), fruit, desserts, sugary drinks, fried food, and alcohol.
The researchers then gave each participant two scores, ranging from 0 to 24. For the Mediterranean diet score (MDS), the participants earned points for eating healthy food. For the Western diet score (WDS), points increased when they ate unhealthy foods.
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After almost four years, just over 10% of the study population had experienced what the researchers called a major adverse cardiovascular event (MACE) in the form of a heart attack, stroke, or death. The researchers found those who had the high MDS scores were the least likely to have experienced a MACE, with each unit increase in MDS score representing a 7% decrease in MACE risk.
This wasn't particularly surprising to the researchers — numerous studies have shown the Mediterranean diet to have cardioprotective effects. What was surprising, however, was that they didn't find any connection between WDS score and MACE frequency. The researchers concluded that rather than focusing so heavily on convincing people to cut out "bad" foods, we should simply encourage them to add more "good" foods to their diets.
I think this could be an interesting approach. After all, the more healthful foods you're consuming, the fewer "Western" foods you'll have room for anyway. One simple way you can shift your diet toward a Mediterranean approach is by making olive oil your fat of choice. Olives and olive oil are staples of this diet, along with foods like fish, produce, and whole grains.
If you think you already consume a pretty healthy diet, but want to try to bump up your MDS score a few more notches, you can give olive leaf extract a try. It's a great natural option for lowering blood pressure and will supplement the benefits of the MDS-friendly foods you're already consuming. If you're interested in trying it, you'll find it in Mediterranean Cholesterol Formula, which will also help you avoid experiencing a MACE, just like the high-MDS-score study participants.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD