By Beth Ricanati, M.D.
You may have wondered about the supposedly miraculous effects of the Mediterranean diet on cardiovascular health. Well, get your EVOO at the ready, because the latest news will make you a believer.
Researchers in Spain conducted a large, randomized trial to study the effects of a Mediterranean diet versus a more traditional diet. Recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the results were so strongly in favor of the Mediterranean diet that they actually stopped the trial early!
The study involved both men (ages 55 to 80) and women (ages 60 to 80) who had either diabetes or three risk factors for heart disease. These typical heart disease risk factors included smoking, elevated blood pressure, elevated bad cholesterol (LDL) or low good cholesterol (HDL), being overweight or obese (BMI greater than 30) or a positive family history of early heart disease.
The authors divided the participants randomly into three groups: Mediterranean diet + extra olive oil, Mediterranean diet + extra nuts and a control group (regular diet). None of the three groups were encouraged to restrict their diet or alter their exercise; the point was just to look for the potential benefits of a Mediterranean diet on heart-health outcomes.
The researchers assessed the participants yearly, and they found that the participants who followed the Mediterranean diet had a lower risk of heart disease compared to a traditional Western diet. This is fabulous news for anyone who likes to eat good food, which honestly, is just about anyone. If you enjoy fruits and vegetables, fish, lean meats and olive oil, eating them is your prescription for a healthy heart. Importantly, this is not a diet. It's a way of life, a lifestyle.
So, brass tacks. How do you maintain this lifestyle? Above all else, keep it simple. Go for nonfat yogurt and fresh fruit, maybe with some nuts, for breakfast. Simple salads and lean protein for lunch, maybe with a whole grain. And for dinner, think fish! Maybe some olives, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese. Limit the processed foods, limit the extra sugar—and plan for an extended retirement in the lap of Mediterranean health and luxury.
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