Yet another study finds Mediterranean diet cuts heart disease

About 30 percent 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…were based on the first major clinical trial to measure the diet’s effect on heart risks. The magnitude of the diet’s benefits startled experts. The study ended early, after almost five years, because the results were so clear it was considered unethical to continue.

The diet helped those following it even though they did not lose weight and most of them were already taking statins, or blood pressure or diabetes drugs to lower their heart disease risk.

“Really impressive,” said Rachel Johnson…a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association. “And the really important thing — the coolest thing — is that they used very meaningful endpoints. They did not look at risk factors like cholesterol of hypertension or weight. They looked at heart attacks and strokes and death. At the end of the day, that is what really matters.”

Until now, evidence that the Mediterranean diet reduced the risk of heart disease was weak, based mostly 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…

Heart disease experts said the study was a triumph because it showed that a diet was powerful in reducing heart disease risk, and it did so using the most rigorous methods. Scientists randomly assigned 7,447 people in Spain who were overweight, were smokers, or had diabetes or other risk factors for heart disease to follow the Mediterranean diet or a low-fat one.

Low-fat diets have not been shown in any rigorous way to be helpful, and they are also very hard for patients to maintain — a reality borne out in the new study, said Dr. Steven E. Nissen, chairman of the department of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

“Now along comes this group and does a gigantic study in Spain that says you can eat a nicely balanced diet with fruits and vegetables and olive oil and lower heart disease by 30 percent,” he said. “And you can actually enjoy life.”

Bravo! I often joke that between my Scottish heritage and Italian heritage I’m lucky I learned to cook from the Italian side. That’s always been a joke about flavors – and sort of about health, too.

Actually, my Scottish/Canadian kin are pretty healthy; but, their diet – with the exception of olive oil is pretty similar to the Mediterranean diet because they are fisherfolk and farmers, island dwellers who don’t rely much on processed industrial food. My immediate family, we ate Italian/Mediterranean from birth. Good olive oil is ambrosia as far as I’m concerned. And growing up workingclass on the New England coast, subsistence fishing was natural to my life.

No doubt there will be beaucoup follow-on studies. If for no other reason than folks with a vested interest in other diets will try to counter the results of this study. But, it ain’t anything new to me, to most folks with sufficient Mediterranean heritage to have it guide their upbringing about diet.

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