Mediterranean diet shown to ward off heart attack and stroke

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About 30% of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals, a large and rigorous new study has found.

The findings, published on The New England Journal of Medicine’s Web site on Monday, were based on the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks. A really important thing about this study is the meaningful endpoints used, like heart attacks, strokes and death, instead of typical factors like cholesterol or hypertension or weight. At the end of the day, that is what really matters. Due to the magnitude of the diet’s benefits, the study ended early, after almost 5 years, because it was considered unethical to continue.

Most of us feel we have heard about the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet in reducing the risk of heart disease before, but they were mostly based on studies showing that people from Mediterranean countries seemed to have lower rates of heart disease. A pattern that could have been attributed to factors other than diet.

The study took place in Spain and randomly assigned 7,447 people, overweight, smokers or with diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease, to either the Mediterranean diet, or a low-fat diet.

The first learning here is worth noting: participants of the low-fat group were unable to follow the low-fat diet and ended up on more of a usual modern diet with its regular consumption of red meat, sodas and commercial baked goods. By comparison, the participants following the Mediterranean diet stayed on it. So not only it was shown the healthiest diet, but it is easy to switch to and adopt for good.

Not everyone is convinced by the results though, like some experts promoting a vegan diet (without olive oil) or others, a very-low-fat diet. For some, all the study showed was that the Mediterranean diet and the horrible control diet were able to create disease in people who otherwise did not have it.

The researchers were careful to say in their paper that while the diet clearly reduced heart disease for those at high risk for it, more research was needed to establish its benefits for people at low risk, and suggested that the best way to use it for protection would be to start in childhood.

In any cases, it was a study really hard to carry out, and the fact that the researchers have changed their own diets and now follow a Mediterranean one is probably worth noting.

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Credit photo: Screen shot from a video by Mac William Bishop, Ben Werschkul, Lisa Desai, Channon Hodge and Pedro Rafael Rosado



* Up for some thought-sharing on this topic?  

When it comes to the so called modern, western diet, it is probably always a good thing to lower our intake on anything pre-packaged or processed in any way. And that probably does not require a study to be proven.

Given the ingredient lists printed on most packaged food (granted that they are inclusive of ALL the ingredients present in the package), the most cautious approach for a balanced diet is to stick to what we know and ensure a sufficient intake of fruit and vegetable, along with any other unprocessed whole foods.

Also common sense, limiting our intake on baked goods, sugary products, caffeine, alcohol.

So really what the study is mainly telling us is that including olive oil, nuts and beans, more natural whole foods, is a way to make it healthier. A balanced diet calls for diversity so it makes sense. To each of you what to decide when it comes to wine. So many contradicting theories exist that it seems risky to suggest a safe opinion about it!

. Do you typically follow today’s modern Western diet, along with its high content of sugar, fat and processed ingredients?

. Do you think following a diet that would include mostly whole foods is easy to switch to or do you expect a lot of adaptation efforts?

. When it comes to your health, what and who do you trust most?

Let us know… 

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