The Mediterranean Diet – Food for Thought 

By now you know that we are all about healthy lifestyles here and we have been preaching the benefits of food choices like olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables for years. This is the basis for the Mediterranean diet.

A recent study of the Mediterranean diet published in the New England Journal of Medicine made a very big splash in the mainstream news and medical circles alike during March, National Nutrition Month®.

So what’s all the hype?

This was a very large study that included more than 7,000 people in Spain, evenly divided and randomly assigned to follow 1 of 3 diets…

  • Mediterranean diet + 4 tbsp daily of extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • Mediterranean diet + 1 oz (handful) daily of mixed nuts including walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts or
  • Low-fat diet

The study was to test whether one of these diets was better at preventing a first stroke, heart attack or death from cardiovascular causes in a high risk population. 

In the medical field we say “primary prevention of a cardiovascular event.”

The study was stopped early when it became clear that the Mediterranean diets were showing a 30% reduction in risk.

Dramatic results like this from a change in diet is staggering. To put this in perspective, aspirin use only yielded a 23% risk reduction when tested almost 30 years ago. And still, we prescribe this every day to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Keep in mind, 30 years ago cholesterol medicines, aspirin and blood pressure lowering medications were not available or routinely used—yet in this study, where the participants were already taking medications well known to lower risk, change in diet was still responsible for almost 40% fewer strokes. The benefit from the change in diet was seen early too.

To me this study reinforces the benefits of a Mediterranean style diet—a diet I encourage my family to embrace. Will we see prescription pads with this diet recommended flying out the doors any time soon? I hope so but YOU can start today.

Until next time!

Stephanie Coulter, MD

Learn more about nutrition on the Texas Heart Institute Heart Information Center nutrition page.

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