MONDAY, Feb. 25 (HealthDay News) -- Score another heart-health
win for the Mediterranean diet.
Eating a diet rich in olive oil, nuts, fresh fruits and
vegetables, along with red wine, helped those at high risk for
cardiovascular problems avoid heart trouble better than those
eating a low-fat diet, a new Spanish study has found.
During a follow-up period of about five years, study
participants on a Mediterranean diet that emphasized either olive
oil or nuts had a 30 percent greater reduction in relative risk of
a heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular disease, said
study lead author Dr. Miguel Angel Martinez-Gonzalez. He is
chairman of preventive medicine and public health at the
Universidad de Navarra in Spain.
"This is a moderate-to-high benefit," he said. "The low-fat diet also helped, but to a lesser degree."
The new findings are published online Feb. 25 in the
New England Journal of Medicine. They will also be presented
Monday at the International Congress on Vegetarian Nutrition in
Loma Linda, Calif.
The findings echo those from previous research.
Martinez-Gonzalez's team evaluated nearly 7,500 men and women.
They ranged in age from 55 to 80 when they enrolled in the study,
which began in Spain in 2003. Fifty-seven percent of the
participants were women.
While the men and women had no history of heart attack or stroke
or other cardiovascular problems at enrollment, they did have risk
factors such as type 2 diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure or
The researchers assigned the men and women to one of three
groups -- a low-fat diet, a Mediterranean diet that focused on nuts
or a Mediterranean diet that focused on olive oil.
On average, the men and women were overweight or obese. In all
three groups, the average body-mass index was 30 or close to it,
which is defined as obese.
The olive oil group consumed about four tablespoons a day or
more. The nuts group ate about three servings a week or more,
including walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds. Members of both groups
also ate plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as fish, and
drank wine with meals. They could have white meat but were told to
avoid red and processed meats.
The low-fat group ate low-fat dairy, breads, potatoes, fruits
and vegetables, and lean fish. They were told to avoid oils, baked
goods, nuts, red and processed meat, and fatty fish.
At the end of the study, 288 cardiovascular events had occurred.
While 109 of those events occurred in the low-fat group, 96 were in
the group that ate a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, and 83 were
in the Mediterranean diet-with-nuts group.
When the researchers looked separately at stroke, heart attack
and death, only the link between the Mediterranean diet and stroke
was statistically significant. The researchers found a link between
the diets and heart protection, but it did not prove cause and
effect, they said.
So why does the Mediterranean diet seem to boost heart health?
Martinez-Gonzalez said it's probably the combination of
good-quality fats -- both monounsaturated like olive oil and
polyunsaturated like vegetable oils -- and the wide range of other
The findings came as no surprise to two U.S. experts.
"I think this is demonstrating again, conclusively, that this is the diet to go on to prevent heart disease," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, and a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign.
The 30 percent reduction in relative risk, she said, is
Alice Lichtenstein, the Stanley Gershoff Professor of Nutrition
Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston, said the new
findings are "confirming what we have been saying all along." The
findings are strong, she said, due to the number of people studied
and the length of the follow-up.
"Essentially, they confirmed what the current recommendations from the American Heart Association and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines are saying," added Lichtenstein, who's also a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association.
However, she said, ''the results of this study do not provide a
license to start snacking on nuts or adding nuts to salads and
yogurt without taking something out of the diet that has an
equivalent number of calories. The same goes for olive oil."
Steinbaum added: "Every time you use butter, just use olive oil
instead. Instead of snacking on popcorn, have some nuts."
The California Walnut Commission is a sponsor of the Congress.
One study researcher is on the commission's board. Another has
received grants from the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council.
The Spanish government funded the research.
To learn more about the Mediterranean diet, visit the
American Heart Association.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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