Does the Mediterranean diet
really slow heart disease?
If I told you that the Mediterranean diet prevents heart disease, you would probably yawn and say, "Yes, I know." But did you know we weren't 100% sure of this until just recently? That's because studies had not zeroed in on the absolute proof. The studies just danced around it. But now, we can say for sure that this diet does prevent heart disease.

The study that finally closed this case came from Spain. The Spanish researchers tracked 7,447 people (55-80 years of age) over about five years. They found a 24% reduction in the rate of vascular disease among followers of the diet. All participants had diabetes or at least three major risk factors for heart disease.

The researchers divided the participants into one of three groups: The first group ate the Mediterranean diet, including four tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. The second group ate the Mediterranean diet plus one ounce daily of walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds. And the third was the control group. They ate a low-fat diet absent the olive oil or nuts. They controlled for prescription and over-the-counter drug use. There was no restriction on the amount of food they ate.

After about five years, the control group had suffered 109 heart attacks, strokes, or deaths from heart disease. There were 83 such events in the Mediterranean group that ate extra nuts. And there were 96 in the Mediterranean group that consumed additional olive oil.

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This was a good study. The pundits even admitted that the Mediterranean diet is at least as good as the best Pharma has to offer. Yet in the U.S., insurance reimburses for chemicals when diet dramatically alleviates the problem. Wonder why "health" costs are driving us into insolvency?

The one flaw in this study tells us how much better the diet is. The study took place in Spain, where many participants were already eating a Mediterranean diet. Imagine what the results would have been like if they had compared the diet to a standard American diet (SAD) group. I venture to say the positive results would have more than doubled. Another weakness in interpretation was the use of extra virgin olive oil. It is full of polyphenols, which could have, on its own, cushioned vascular events. Please note that those in the nut category did the best. There, you get pure unadulterated oil and co-factors as nature designed - right in the whole food.

The common thread of the Mediterranean diet is the following: lots of fruits, veggies, breads, and whole cereals, beans, nuts, and seeds. Olive oil should be the key monounsaturated fat source. Low to moderate dairy, fish, and poultry. Very little red meat. Eggs from zero to four times per week. Wine in limited amounts. Please consider this simple and easy-to-follow diet before you take any chemicals, along with their side effects.

REF: NEJM 2-15-13; Boston Globe, 2-25-13.

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