'Spectacular' Findings on Mediterranean Diet

New research shows the Mediterranean way trumps the low-fat option

The olive oil- and nut-rich Mediterranean diet has proved to be much better than a low-fat diet in preventing stroke and heart attacks among older subjects, according to a Spanish study published by the New England Journal of Medicine on Monday.

The study's findings "blow the low-fat diet myth out of the water," Cleveland Clinic cardiologist Steven Nissen told the LA Times. Nissen, an expert on how drugs and nutrition affect cardiovascular risk, was not involved in the research, but called the study "spectacular.”

The findings provide contrary evidence not only to the claim that some high-fat foods (such as walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds) are bad for the body, but that not all calories are created equal.

Participants in the study were between the ages of 55 to 80 and in good health, but had a high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Their risk factors included type 2 diabetes, hypertension, bad cholesterol readings, or that they were obese or overweight, had a family history of premature heart disease or were active smokers.

A group of 2,450 people were urged to follow a low-fat diet, while 4,997 others adhered to a Mediterranean diet with added nuts (2,454 subjects) or extra-virgin olive oil (2,543 subjects). This style of eating includes not only high levels of these fats, but also large proportions of legumes, unrefined cereals, fruits and vegetables. Fish (but not other meats), dairy products and wine are also consumed in moderation.

Unlike the first group, the people on the Mediterranean diet had no calorie limit. Despite the fact that they were able to eat more and higher quantities of certain fats, subjects on the Mediterranean diet had a 30 percent lower chance of heart attack, stroke or death attributed to cardiovascular disease.

Researchers also noted that the benefits of this eating habit extended to every sub-category of study participants including men, women, older and younger subjects and those who did or did not have every risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The low-fat diet did, however, show better results in the small group of subjects without hypertension.

Subjects were all randomized and followed their diets for a median of 4.8 years to ensure a more accurate assessment and to gauge how many in each group would have a heart attack, stroke or die of cardiovascular disease. 

Via L.A. Times.