A number of studies have shown that adherence to a Mediterranean diet – rich in olive oil, nuts, as well as fruits, vegetables, and legumes, and limited amounts of dairy products, red meat, soda drinks, processed meats, and sweets – reduces major cardiovascular events in patients that have cardiovascular risks.
Ramon Estruch, from Hospital Clinic (Spain), and colleagues enrolled 7,447 men and women, ages 55 to 80 years, who were free of cardiovascular disease at the study’s start but either had diabetes or at least one of three cardiovascular risk factors (smoking, high blood pressure, or obesity), to consume either a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with mixed nuts, or a control diet (advice to reduce dietary fat). All subjects received quarterly individual and group educational sessions. After a median follow-up of 4.8 years, 288 participants had a cardiovascular related event, including 96 (3.8%) in the olive-oil group, 83 (3.4%) in the mixed-nut group, and 109 (4.4%) in the control group. In a multivariable analysis, the olive-oil diet led to a 28% reduction in risk, compared with the control diet. The mixed nut diet had a similar risk reduction to the olive-oil diet. The study authors conclude that: “Among persons at high cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events.”
The simplest way to benefit from these studies is to substitute the source of some fats in our diet. Plant based fats and oils have the effect of reducing and even reversing the elevated cholesterol and arteriosclerosis caused by diets high in red meat, refined sugars, and processed foods.
Key components of the Mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:
• Getting plenty of exercise
• Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
• Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
• Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
• Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
• Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
• Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
Supplementing healthy alternatives often fails because we are not familiar with how to prepare flavorful, satisfying meals using unfamiliar ingredients. Search out recipes online and experiment. Do not try to make radical changes in a short period of time. This is a life-long process with long term benefits. One key to successfully changing your diet is to indulge in your favorite food two to three times a month as you are making the transition.
Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvado J, Covas MI, D Pharm, Corella D, Martínez-Gonzalez MA, et al.; the PREDIMED Study Investigators. “Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet.” N Engl J Med. 2013 Feb 25.