A number of studies regarding cardiovascular disease have appeared during American Heart Month. An impressive one surfaced on February 25 that provided further evidence that a Mediterranean diet is good for your heart. The large multicenter study in Spain was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The researchers followed 7,447 individuals in Spain for almost five years. The research is noted not only for its size but also its attention to scientific detail. The Mediterranean is common in coastal areas of Southern Europe; it is composed of healthy food products such as olive oil, fruits, vegetables, fish, beans, and nuts. The researchers found that the diet reduced the risk of stroke, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular problems by 30% among high-risk individuals. In addition to being heart healthy, the diet rates high in tastiness.
The study participants were between 55 and 80 years old (57% women). They did not have cardiovascular disease when they enrolled in the study; however, they were at high-risk for developing it because they had diabetes, were smokers, had high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol, had strong family history of heart problems or were obese. Many were on medications to treat their risk factors: Almost half were taking drugs for high blood pressure and more than 40% took statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs).
The subjects were randomly assigned to one of three diets: 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). The participants received quarterly individual and group educational sessions and, depending on group assignment, free provision of extra-virgin olive oil, mixed nuts, or small nonfood gifts. The primary end point was the rate of major cardiovascular events (myocardial infarction (heart attack), stroke, or death from cardiovascular causes). On the basis of the results of an interim analysis, the trial was halted after a median follow-up of 4.8 years.
The researchers found that the two Mediterranean-diet groups had good adherence to the study protocol, according to self-reported intake and biomarker analyses. A primary end-point event occurred in 288 participants. The hazard ratios were 0.70 for the Mediterranean diet with extra-virgin olive oil (96 events) and 0.72 for the group assigned to the Mediterranean diet with nuts (83 events); 109 events occurred in the control group.
The authors concluded 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.
Take home message:
I have taken a number of cruises to the Mediterranean and was impressed by the plentiful supplies of healthy fresh foods throughout the region, including Rome and Venice. Many associate a diet with boring, tasteless food; however, the Mediterranean diet is loaded with flavor.