Can a Mediterranean Diet Help You Prevent Heart Disease?

Stefanie Stevenson and Sian Cotton, Integrative Medicine

(L to R) Stefanie Stevenson, MD, and Sian Cotton, PhD, UC Health Integrative Medicine

Contributed by Sian Cotton, PhD

The answer to that question is a resounding “yes,” according to an article recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study, which followed 7,447 people over a five-year period, saw a reduction in major cardiovascular events like heart attacks and stroke by nearly 30 percent when compared with a control group eating a low-fat diet.

Who participated in the Mediterranean diet study?

Study participants included both men and women between the ages of 55 and 80 who were at high risk for developing heart disease. Risk factors included type 2 diabetes mellitus, being a smoker, having high blood pressure/cholesterol, being obese and having a family history of premature heart disease.

What did study participants eat?

To test the idea that a Mediterranean diet protects against heart disease, participants were randomly assigned one of the following three diets: a Mediterranean diet with additional extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts, or a low-fat diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, bread, pasta and fish. Ultimately, the study showed that both Mediterranean diets reduced participants’  cardiovascular risk by about a 28 percent.

What foods are included in a traditional Mediterranean diet?

typical Mediterranean diet tends to consist of low-fat plant proteins (nuts, seeds and legumes), olive oil, seafood, whole grains, lots of fruit and vegetables, and little processed or red meat. Previous studies have found that the combination of moderate consumption of ethanol (largely from wine), reduced consumption of meat, and increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish and olive oil are key aspects of the Mediterranean diet. There are numerous websites that have Mediterranean recipes for free or you could check out one of the local Mediterranean restaurants in the Cincinnati area!

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